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The MA Legislature has finalized a budget for 2012, cutting $1.5M for HIV/AIDS services

Posted Jul 01 2011 11:02am

Statement from Rebecca Haag, President & CEO, AIDS Action Committee:

“We are deeply disappointed with the Conference Committee budget cutting $1.5 million in the HIV/AIDS line item. This is the third year in a row that the HIV/AIDS line item has been cut by $1.5 million or more. Last year’s cut of $2 million resulted in reduced prevention and screening programs, residential support services, non-medical case management for persons living with HIV/AIDS, and elimination of the regional Service Coordination Collaborative system.

“The state’s investment in HIV/AIDS treatment and prevention over the last three decades has paid off with a 59 percent reduction in new HIV diagnoses over the last 10 years, which will result in savings of more than $1.6 billion in health care costs. Massachusetts has been successful in reducing new infections precisely because we’ve invested heavily in connecting people with care.

“It is sheer folly to step away from what is still a public health crisis in the black, Hispanic, and gay/bisexual communities. Blacks make up only 6% of the state’s population, but they comprise 28% of those living with HIV/AIDS; Hispanics make up only 6% of the state’s population, but they comprise 25% of those living with HIV/AIDS; and male-to-male sex and injection drug use are the leading reported exposure modes for HIV infection for those living with HIV/AIDS, accounting for 35% and 24% of all exposures, respectively. We need funding restored to end these disparities.

“At the same time, we are grateful that the final budget increased the cap for the state’s HIV Drug Assistance Program, which provides life-saving HIV medication to the poor. That said, this will be a cost neutral move since the state expects to recapture this entire amount through a pharmaceutical drug rebate program. Providing medical care and life saving medications to those who are homeless, have substance abuse issues or are mentally ill are insufficient without the critical community-based services needed to stabilize them. Medication coupled with prevention and wellness programs are critical to long-term savings in health care.

“Over the last decade, state funding for HIV treatment and prevention has declined about 25 percent. During the same period, the number of people living with HIV and AIDS has increased by 42 percent. Today, there are approximately 18,000 people living with HIV in Massachusetts. They are some of the Commonwealth’s most vulnerable citizens. With the cuts proposed this week, they are being asked to bear more than their fair share for solving the state’s fiscal crisis.

“Last July, President Obama released a National Strategy on HIV/AIDS which outlines ambitious, but achievable, goals toward ending the epidemic. Massachusetts has long been a national leader in implementing effective public health programs that succeed in reducing HIV transmission and increase the health of those already infected. So it is particularly disappointing that the Commonwealth is stepping back from its commitment—a commitment that has no doubt saved countless lives, and eased the burden that can come with a diagnosis of HIV for thousands more.”

About AIDS Action Committee of Massachusetts
Founded in 1983, AIDS Action Committee of Massachusetts, Inc. (AAC), is New England’s first and largest AIDS service organization. AAC’s mission is to stop the epidemic and related health inequities by eliminating new infections, maximizing healthier outcomes of those infected and at risk, and attacking the root causes of HIV/AIDS. AAC accomplishes this mission by providing services for men, women, and children living with AIDS and HIV; educating the public and health professionals about how to prevent HIV transmission in accordance with harm reduction principles; and advocating for fair and effective AIDS policy at the city, state, and federal levels. AAC also provides targeted outreach to those most vulnerable to HIV infection. In 2010, AAC merged with Cambridge Cares About AIDS to more efficiently deliver AIDS services in the Greater Boston area and expand its capacity for social justice work aimed at reducing the disparities among those infected and affected by HIV/AIDS. AAC runs the only statewide AIDS/STD Hotline (1-800-235-2331) and Hepatitis Hotline (1-888-443-4372). All Hotlines offer multilingual support. Free and confidential rapid HIV testing and counseling, and clean needle exchange is also available. Learn more at http://www.aac.org/ .

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