March 28, 2011
On Thursday, a state Senate finance subcommittee approved a budget proposal under which the Texas HIV Medication Program for low-income patients would be unable to afford new clients. However, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst (R), president of the Senate, said later that he expects "lifesaving drugs will be included" in any final budget.
The subcommittee's chair, Sen. Jane Nelson (R-Flower Mound), tasked budget writers with ranking items by three levels of priority, with the first category the most important. The proposal approved would restore $4.5 billion to state-supplied health services. The HIV program was listed as a second-tier priority.
Sen. Judith Zaffirini (D-Laredo) asked the Department of State Health Services commissioner what would happen if HIV/AIDS patients could not access treatment.
"The natural progression, without any medications, would be that they die," replied Dr. David Lakey.
"And this is in priority two, which is really a wish list?" asked Zaffirini. "It is my belief that when we vote on a priority like this we are basically making a decision regarding who lives and who dies."
Prompted by Nelson, Lakey explained that one-time federal funds for the program were only for the last budget cycle. Those funds are not on the table this cycle. The program provides treatment to 14,000 HIV/AIDS patients, Lakey said.
"I simply cannot vote for this proposal," Zaffirini said. "I believe it is wise to add $4.5 billion, but that is not enough. And I doubt items in priority two will be funded at this time."
"There are too many Texans that need our help that will be hurt if we only do the $4.5 billion," said Sen. Kevin Eltife (R-Tyler).
Dewhurst pledged the HIV program would be funded, without offering details. "I've made sure that happened before," he noted.