Last October, the Utah AIDS Drug Assistance Program closed its doors to new applicants, lowered its income eligibility requirements and kicked 87 people from its rolls because of a state funding shortage.
And as the General Legislative Session continues, the People with AIDS Coalition of Utah is calling on all members of the community to advocate for the program’s reopening.
As Toni Johnson, PWACU’s executive director, explains it, ADAP is funded by state and federal money. However, the state contributed just $100,000 last year — not nearly enough to provide for the nearly 500 people in the program’s rolls before the freeze and the income requirements change. Before the freeze participants had to have incomes at 400 percent of the U.S. poverty level. Now, eligible recipients must be at 200 percent at poverty, or take in no more than $21,600 per year — a regimen of HIV therapy costs roughly half of that. In recent years, she added, ADAP had been scaling back other services, including mental health care for its clients.
To reopen the program and allow the 55 HIV positive Utahns into its rolls who currently meet income requirements, Johnson estimates that the program will need a state contribution of approximately $500,000 — a number that accounts for the fact that some clients may only need a few of the program’s services, such as prescription co-pays or enrollment in the COBRA program.
“We also anticipate some current clients coming off of ADAP as they become Medicaid eligible, they move out of Utah , or their incomes exceed the maximum federal poverty level,” she added.
Johnson estimated that the cost for a client requiring ADAP’s full range of services would be $13,200 per year.
In order to get the money to help people pay for their HIV medication, Johnson said she needs help from Utah’s gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community and their allies.
“They can help by calling and calling and emailing and emailing” legislators on the House and Senate Health and Human Services Committee, the Health and Human Services Appropriations Subcommittee and the Executive Appropriations Committee, she said. “They’re not looking at enhancing the program but cutting the budget, but we still need to tell them it’s important to the community.”
The ADAP program is necessary, Johnson explained, because the antiretroviral drugs it pays for are the difference between people with HIV/AIDS living a full and productive life and dying of the disease as they did in the decades before such drugs’ creation. Already, she said, some clients who are no longer in Utah’s ADAP have had to switch their drug regimens to qualify for drug assistance programs, an action physicians and pharmacists do not recommend when a treatment plan is working because switching drugs when they work can make the patient immune to them. Given that finding a combination of drugs that works can be difficult, an immunity to a working regimen can further complicate treatment options.
For more information about ADAP and PWACU’s work, visit pwacu.org.