(Chicago, IL) — April 18, 2011. The Illinois Department of Public Health announced its plans late last week to restrict access to the AIDS Drug Assistance Program to new applicants with incomes at or below 300% of the federal poverty level versus the current 500% limit, drawing opposition from top HIV/AIDS activists and an angry reaction from a top Illinois House Democrat.
“I have been working like a dog to stop this looming restriction to living-saving HIV/AIDS medication from happening, and I am furious with this decision,” said State Rep. Sara Feigenholtz (D-Chicago), Chair of the House Human Services Appropriations Committee.
“The HIV/AIDS drugs program is not where administrators at the Illinois Department of Public Health should cut,” said Feignenholtz.
The state’s public health agency, which attempted to bury the bad news by unveiling its decision on Friday April 15, expects the change in eligibility criteria will likely affect 100 or more individuals annually, saving the state $1.3 million, or just under 3% of program costs.
“The human services appropriations committee this year plans to start its budget cuts on the department’s $882,000 annual Chicago office rent on south Michigan Avenue before it cuts life saving medication,” said Feigenholtz.
“This is a sad day for the fight against HIV/AIDS in Illinois,” said David Ernesto Munar, President/CEO of the AIDS Foundation of Chicago. “The new policy will keep ADAP out-of-reach for hundreds of individuals who have nowhere else to turn for help. Many will simply forgo treatment …”
Jointly funded by the federal and state governments, ADAP provides HIV medications each month to more than 4,200 Illinoisans who have no other means to afford their lifesaving medications, which can cost $18,000 or more per year.
All current program recipients, including those with incomes between 300-500 percent of poverty, will continue to receive ADAP services, provided they meet other eligibility criteria and reapply for the program every six months.
Stemming spiraling costs that threaten continuity of care for existing program clients motivated the changes, state officials said.
The announcement comes on the heels of two years of financial pressure on the program. Record numbers of people with HIV became eligible and joined ADAP as a result of the economic downturn, high unemployment, and losses of private health insurance. Illinois has struggled to keep its program solvent in the face of inadequate federal funding.
Nationally, nearly 8,000 people with HIV in 11 states are on ADAP waiting lists.
In 2009, Governor Pat Quinn redirected an additional $7 million, including portions of the state’s HIV prevention, housing and care budgets, toward ADAP to avoid financial collapse. With pressure from state lawmakers to close the Illinois budget gap, public health officials forecast a $1.8 million shortfall for ADAP in 2012 without cost-containment measures.
In addition, Illinois received nearly $5 million this year in one-time supplemental federal funding because the state’s caseload grew so significantly. However, slower growth to date means Illinois may not receive this funding next year.
“We’re fully committed to continuing to work closely with the General Assembly, Governor Quinn, IDPH, and federal lawmakers to identify additional funds that will allow unrestricted ADAP access for Illinoisans who desperately need HIV medications to survive and thrive,” said John Peller, AFC Vice President of Policy.
“We’re going back to the budget drawing board,” Feigenholtz added.