The Ryan White Comprehensive AIDS Resources Emergency (CARE) Act is Federal legislation that addresses the unmet health needs of persons living with HIV disease (PLWH) by funding primary health care and support services that enhance access to and retention in care. First enacted by Congress in 1990, it was amended and reauthorized in 1996 and again in 2000. The CARE Act reaches over 500,000 individuals each year, making it the Federal Government's largest program specifically for people living with HIV disease.

Like many health problems, HIV disease disproportionately strikes people in poverty, racial/ethnic populations, and others who are underserved by healthcare and prevention systems. HIV often leads to poverty due to costly healthcare or an inability to work that is often accompanied by a loss of employer-related health insurance. CARE Act-funded programs are the "payer of last resort." They fill gaps in care not covered by other resources. Most likely users of CARE Act services include people with no other source of healthcare and those with Medicaid or private insurance whose care needs are not being met.

CARE Act services are intended to reduce the use of more costly inpatient care, increase access to care for underserved populations, and improve the quality of life for those affected by the epidemic. The CARE Act works toward these goals by funding local and State programs that provide primary medical care and support services; healthcare provider training; and technical assistance to help funded programs address implementation and emerging HIV care issues.

The CARE Act provides for significant local and State control of HIV/AIDS healthcare planning and service delivery. This has led to many innovative and practical approaches to the delivery of care for PLWH.