In the dead of night on Dec. 2, the Republican-led U.S. Senate hastily approved a sweeping bill that, among other things, could drastically cut federal funding for people with pre-existing health conditions like HIV, people who use Medicaid, and people who rely on safety net programs such as housing support and child care assistance.
Will World AIDS Day 2017 be remembered as the day the U.S. Congress and Trump administration dissolved the national commitment to lifesaving resources for people living with HIV and those at risk for HIV?
The HIV community is urging immediate action and speaking out against this attack on health care, which also threatens the dignity and lives of millions of people.
Since the (also) Republican-led House of Representatives already passed its own version of the bill in November, both chambers of Congress must come together to work out the differences. The consensus bill is expected to be hashed out and voted on by the House and Senate before Christmas.
Related: Speak Up, Tweet Back, Write AIDS: Communication Tips for HIV Activists in the Social Media Age
Advocacy Organizations React
From Positive Women's Network - USA, which has created an "HIV Tax Bill Resource Center" with information on how to take action against the bill:
This World AIDS Day, the Senate voted to approve a massive tax plan that will decimate the social safety net. The House previously passed their version of the plan. What's next? The two bills are different. They now head to conference committee, to work out the differences. Both chambers of Congress will have to vote on the conference bill. A final bill is expected to be ready by the end of this week, for a vote next week. Make no mistake, both versions of this bill are a declaration of class warfare and a direct attack on health care. Click here to take action now.
Both the House and Senate versions of the bill would cut billions in funding for programs that benefit people who are working and middle-class, living in high-tax rate states, have pre-existing conditions, and who use safety net programs, like Medicaid and SNAP (food stamps). Republicans pushed these cuts to fund tax breaks for corporations and the ultra-wealthy.
PWN hosted a webinar on the #GOPTaxScam on December 4th. Watch the recording here. Download the slides here.
From a joint statement by AIDS United, National Alliance of State & Territorial AIDS Directors, National Coalition of STD Directors, National Minority AIDS Council, and The AIDS Institute:
The tax reform bill will increase our nation's deficit and force cuts to entitlement programs such as Medicaid, Medicare and other life-saving discretionary programs, including HIV and STD prevention, care, and treatment. The repeal of the individual mandate will make insurance plans unaffordable to those living with pre-existing conditions, including HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases. The provision will increase the number of uninsured Americans by 13 million, leading to dire consequences for the healthcare of our nation.
Access to affordable, comprehensive insurance and the full funding of HIV and STD discretionary programs are critical to ending the HIV and STD epidemics. The action taken today -- following World AIDS Day -- directly harms people living with or at risk of HIV and STDs, despite Congress and the Administration's pledges of support. We urge Congress to immediately reconsider their actions and defeat this bill in conference. Further, we urge the President, who tweeted his support of U.S. leadership in the fight against HIV/AIDS today, to veto this shameful bill should it reach his desk.
From an additional press release by National Alliance of State & Territorial AIDS Directors:
"It is appalling that the Senate would pass, simultaneously as the nation commemorated World AIDS Day, this mean-spirited bill that will erode the progress this country has made in ending the HIV epidemic," noted NASTAD Executive Director Murray Penner. "Eliminating the individual mandate without any proposal to ensure balanced risk pools is just a back-door way to repeal the ACA with no replacement, something Senate Republications had vowed they would not do. In combination with the massive increase in the deficit, this bill will have a significant impact on our ability to fund programs that provide lifesaving prevention, care, and treatment for people living with HIV and hepatitis."
"Moving forward, we urge Congress to continue to protect access to insurance and Medicaid and to fully fund HIV and hepatitis public health programs," Penner concluded. NASTAD will continue to educate Congress on the importance of preserving coverage, affordability, and lifesaving services for people living with and at risk for HIV and hepatitis and is eager to work with Congress on bipartisan solutions to make the healthcare system work better.
From a statement by Federal AIDS Policy Partnership, an association of nearly 90 organizations:
The repeal of the individual mandate will increase the number of uninsured by 13 million Americans and likely leave individual coverage unaffordable for many people with HIV and others with pre-existing conditions whose lives depend on access to healthcare. While short-term stabilization efforts are necessary and important, as confirmed by the Congressional Budget Office, they cannot replace the individual mandate that supports the diverse and robust health insurance risk pool necessary to keep healthcare coverage accessible for us all.
In the U.S., 1.1 million people are living with HIV and worldwide 36.7 million people are living with HIV. We urge Congressional members to consider them and their families by not passing a fiscally irresponsible bill that will have long and far reaching consequences for people living with HIV and for our ability to end the HIV pandemic.
From The Black AIDS Institute's executive director Phill Wilson:
Now, they are trying to convince us that they didn't do what they did, and if they did, there is nothing we can do about it, anyway. But, if we've learned nothing else over the thirty-five plus years of fighting the HIV/AIDS epidemic and the last ten plus months of the Trump administration, we should have learned that "it is not over until it is over".
Opinion polls have shown that this tax legislation is opposed by the vast majority of the American people, yet the Republican majority has rammed the bill through -- without hearings, without testimony from economic experts, and without input from the communities that will be most injured, including people living with HIV and Black America as a whole.
This fight isn't over. Call your representatives in the Congress and Senate using the United States Capitol switchboard (202-224-3121) and ask to be connected. Tell them that both the House and Senate tax reform proposals are unacceptable and that you want them to protect the individual mandate, which requires everyone to have health insurance. Tell them why having health insurance is so important to you.
From Human Rights Campaign:
"With thoughtless disregard for their constituents, 51 Senate Republicans just voted for reckless legislation disguised as 'tax reform' that threatens millions of Americans' health care and programs crucial to the LGBTQ community," said HRC President Chad Griffin. "This widely unpopular and dangerous bill was drafted behind closed doors, not made available to the American people until a few hours before the vote, and rushed through without any meaningful debate. History will judge how these senators voted today, and the American people will remember at the ballot box."
From Project Inform:
This is a serious concern for all of us who care about health care, particularly for those with pre-existing conditions like HIV and hepatitis C. Our health care and our safety net is at risk in this outrageous Republican plan to give tax cuts to the wealthiest Americans and corporations.
Programs like Medicaid, Medicare and Ryan White will lose billions in funding. Disease prevention, food stamps, housing programs and the Affordable Healthcare Act (ACA) are at risk along with many other important programs.
Please call these Senators TODAY, if you have friends or family in these Senator's states, please have them call also, and urge them to oppose a tax bill that benefits only the wealthy while taking health care away from 13 million Americans. Your voice is essential to stop this bill!
From San Francisco AIDS Foundation CEO Joe Hollendoner:
President Trump and supporters of the Senate and House tax bills are credible threats to that progress and to those living with and at risk for HIV. The AIDS ribbon hanging in the north portico of the White House to commemorate World AIDS Day is this year nothing more than window dressing.
"San Francisco AIDS Foundation is disappointed by the contradiction between President Trump's proclamation that credits public and private investments for progress in HIV prevention and treatment and his statements supporting a tax plan that eliminates health coverage for 13 million people, threatens Medicaid, and opens a $1 trillion budget deficit.
From Student Global AIDS Campaign:
From ACT UP New York:
Actions Against the Tax Bill in Washington, D.C., This Week
From activist Maryellen Novak:
From activist Jennifer Flynn Walker:
From activist Jose de Marco:
From activist Paul Davis:
From TheBody.com contributing editor Tim Murphy:
Reactions From Members of the HIV Community
From activist Jason Rosenberg:
From PWN-USA executive director Naina Khana:
From Transgender Law Center senior director of strategic projects Cecilia Chung:
Ken Stockwell is associate editor and senior web producer for TheBody.com and TheBodyPRO.com.