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AIDS Action Weekly Update

February 28, 1997

AIDS Deaths Decline Overall, Not So For Women

Statistics released yesterday, February 28, by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) show a significant overall drop in AIDS deaths for the first time since the beginning of the epidemic. Health officials reported that the decline can be attributed to two factors. First, the number of individuals who progress to the AIDS stage of the disease is beginning to plateau, and second, that improved medical treatments are extending the lives of those at that stage of the disease. This positive news, however, includes a downside. While the overall rates of AIDS deaths has declined by 13 percent, death rates have increased by 3 percent in women and individuals infected through heterosexual contact. Moreover, the HIV infection rates among people of color continues to rise. In 1996, African Americans accounted for a larger proportion of AIDS cases (41 percent) than whites. Further, decreases in death rates among African Americans (2 percent) and Latinos (10 percent) were lower than the decreases for their white counterparts (21 percent).

The drop in deaths also means that there are more people living with HIV/AIDS, and these individuals will require continued treatment and care in order to extend and improve their lives. It is critical that the federal government continue to address the needs of people living with HIV/AIDS in this country by providing a comprehensive response to the epidemic through AIDS research, prevention, treatment, and housing.

Difficult Appropriations Process Ahead

It appears that the appropriations process will move fairly slowly this year. Republican leaders have yet to produce a budget resolution which lays the groundwork for spending targets for the 13 appropriations bills for the next fiscal year. At the moment appropriators are nervously awaiting guidance, as they would like to begin moving forward on individual spending bills by April or May. One reason for the delay is that the FY 98 budget released by President Clinton requests over $30 billion more than what last year's GOP budget resolution called for in FY 98. In order to meet their budget goals, congressional Republicans would have to make cuts substantially larger than those laid out in the president's proposal. Under the president's FY 98 budget plan AIDS programs will receive the following increases above FY 97 levels: HIV prevention programs at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), $17.5 million; AIDS research at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), $40 million; the Ryan White CARE Act, $40 million; Housing Opportunities for People With AIDS (HOPWA), $8 million; and the Substance Abuse Prevention and Treatment Block Grant at the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), $10 million. These modest increases, while appreciated, will not adequately meet the needs of the hundreds of thousands of individuals living with HIV/AIDS in this country. Any funding levels below the president's requests would prove disastrous to the AIDS community.

Kennedy-Dingell Legislation Sets Managed Care Standards

Senator Edward Kennedy (D-MA) and Representative John Dingell (D-MI) will sponsor legislation that will set quality standards for managed care organizations and other health insurance plans. Among other things, the Kennedy-Dingell bill will prohibit insurance companies from denying access to care that is deemed appropriate, such as specialty care, emergency care, and clinical trials of experimental treatments and drugs. In response to complaints about gag rules by managed care and health maintenance organizations, the legislation would also prohibit doctors from withholding information regarding treatment options to patients, even if those treatments are more costly for the insurer. Similar legislation, sponsored by Representatives Greg Ganske (R-IO) and Edward Markey (D-MA) has over 100 cosponsors.

Balanced Budget Amendment Short On Senate Support

The Senate will move forward with a vote on a constitutional amendment to balance the budget despite the slim chances of passage. Until this week, two votes were in question, those of freshmen Senators Mary Landrieu (D-LA) and Robert Toricelli (D-NY). Senator Landrieu announced earlier this week that despite some misgivings, she would vote for the balanced budget amendment giving the Senate 66 votes in support of the amendment. The next day, Senator Toricelli (D-NY) announced that he would not support the amendment, leaving the Senate one vote shy of the 67 votes needed to pass the legislation. Many opponents of the balanced budget amendment have concerns that altering the Constitution by requiring a balanced budget without specifying how it should be balanced, will jeopardize key programs on which millions of Americans rely. AIDS advocacy groups are particularly concerned that enacting a balanced budget amendment will require unprecedented spending cuts to programs important to people living with or at risk for HIV infection, including Medicaid and discretionary AIDS research, prevention, care, and housing programs, as well as other health and social services programs. The Senate is scheduled to vote on the balanced budget amendment Tuesday, March 4.

For more information contact:
Lisa White
AIDS Action Council
1875 Connecticut Ave., NW Suite 700
Washington, DC 20009

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This article was provided by AIDS Action Council. It is a part of the publication AIDS Action Weekly Update.