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Policy Update: Progress in the fight against HIV/AIDS

Posted Nov 15 2009 10:00pm

The HIV/AIDS community continues to make progress in the policy fight against the epidemic. Critical funding has been maintained or enhanced at the state and federal levels, and discriminatory policies targeting HIV+ people are coming undone. Read on for more detail on key areas of policy progress, as well as struggles that still need your help.

National HIV/AIDS Strategy Comment Period Closing Friday

AIDS Action Committee is proud to be a leading member of the Coalition for a National AIDS Strategy, the grassroots organization founded two years ago that successfully lobbied presidential candidates Obama and McCain to commit to creating a National HIV/AIDS Strategy for the United States. After 26 years of the domestic HIV/AIDS epidemic, the U.S. still operates without a coordinated, outcomes-based, community-informed strategy to combat the disease.

The Obama Administration, through its Office of National AIDS Policy, has begun the process of creating a National HIV/AIDS Strategy. For the last several months, the White House’s Office of National AIDS Policy has been gathering input from everyday Americans on the National HIV/AIDS Strategy through town halls in various cities and a comment form on its website. The online comment period closes Monday, November 23rd, however, and it is imperative that people committed to a National HIV/AIDS Strategy weigh in with their input and experiences. Contribute to the development of the first coordinated, domestic plan to fight HIV/AIDS by submitting your comment now.

FEDERAL: Ryan White, Travel Ban, Syringe Exchange, Health Care

Ryan White Act: In late October, Congress passed and the President signed the Ryan White HIV/AIDS Treatment Extension Act of 2009. The Ryan White Act provides critical funding for services provided to people living with HIV/AIDS, some 500,000 people nationwide. AIDS Action Committee was active in the effort to pass this bill, calling our supporters to action in Massachusetts and working with our allies in Congress to ensure the continuation of this lifeline for HIV+ people. Ryan White programs were reauthorized for four additional years with a 5% across the board increase in funding.

HIV Travel Ban: After two decades of activism against the HIV travel ban, the 22-year-old prohibition on HIV+ people entering the United States will end in early 2010. The change has been developing for more than a year, undergoing a review process within various governmental agencies. President Obama formally announced the ban’s end on October 30th, calling it a rule based in fear rather than fact.

Syringe Exchange: A tougher fight on federal funding for syringe exchange programs (SEPs) is ongoing in the Senate. The House recently passed a bill including a provision to lift the 20-year-old ban on the use of federal funds for syringe exchange programs, while also including an amendment that would bar newly available funds from being used in SEPs within 1,000 feet of places children are likely to gather, including schools, parks, daycare centers, and other similar locations. For hard-hit urban areas, the new rule would likely mean that no SEPs would be able to access federal funds —essentially an extension of the status quo. Research unequivocally shows that syringe exchange programs lower HIV infection rates, help save lives and do not encourage expanded drug use. SEPs are an effective prevention strategy, and our federal government should treat them as such. Please contact your Senators in support of removing this amendment today.

Health Care Reform: AIDS Action Committee continues to monitor and inform the current health care reform debate in Congress. We are pleased that the House bill, passed on November 7th, allows Medicaid to cover early treatment for HIV+ people, rather than the current standards which don’t allow coverage until HIV+ people have developed AIDS. We are concerned about the House-passed Stupak/Pitts Amendment, which will prohibit women receiving federal subsidies to purchase private health insurance under the new structures from buying plans that cover abortion procedures. As a public health and social services agency, AIDS Action Committee believes that people should be able to access the medical services they and their health providers designate. If you would like to see the Stupak/Pitts Amendment removed, please contact your Senators today and tell them not to include any similar provisions in their final version of health reform legislation.

STATE

Good Samaritan Bill: On the state front, AIDS Action Committee’s Policy Department continues to monitor several bills, one of which we testified in support of a few weeks back. The Good Samaritan Bill (SB 1843) will make it easier for people to call 911 during an overdose-related medical emergency. Currently, nearly two people die each day in our state due to opioid overdose, yet many people experiencing or witnessing overdose neglect to call 911, fearing police involvement. The Good Samaritan Bill simply prohibits callers from being prosecuted for possession of a controlled substance; it does not prohibit unrelated charges. AIDS Action Committee supports this bill because we see the benefit of second chances in our work with clients and at-risk individuals each and every day. If you would like to lend your voice to this effort, check out the MA Department of Public Health’s call-to-action in support of this bill.

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