For more information on the "20 Years of AIDS" please use the links below.
On June 5, 1981, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) published its first report of a new disease that was striking young gay men. Twenty years later, AIDS has claimed nearly 450,000 lives in this country and over 22 million lives worldwide. What was at first dismissed by many as a “gay disease,” has now affected every segment of society. The proportion of new AIDS cases among women has more than tripled in the last decade, and one third of all new infections are the result of heterosexual contact. Communities of color have been hit particularly hard. African Americans NOW account for the majority of new AIDS cases, and the proportion of AIDS cases among Hispanics has increased dramatically. Gay or straight, black or white, male or female - AIDS is everyone’s problem.
After years of struggle, we have made significant progress in the fight against HIV/AIDS. However, a substantial hole remains in our safety net for people with HIV. Under current law, low-income HIV-positive individuals must wait until they develop full-blown AIDS before they qualify for Medicaid coverage. Forcing people to wait for healthcare until their immune system is compromised by AIDS is indefensible. This law must be changed.
Today, we are introducing legislation cosponsored by nearly 100 Members of Congress that would allow low-income individuals living with HIV to qualify for Medicaid coverage earlier in the course of their disease. Early treatment for HIV infection saves lives and reduces health care costs as progression from HIV to full-blown AIDS is prevented or delayed. It also strengthens our economy. Individuals who receive appropriate treatment are able to return to work, or continue working as disability is delayed, leading to increased productivity and tax revenues.
New infections combined with a decline in AIDS deaths means that more people than ever before are living with HIV and AIDS. While we must intensify our prevention efforts, including education about behavioral risk and research for a vaccine, we must respond to the growing demand for HIV care. As HIV moves increasingly into low-income, under-served communities, the burden of care will increasingly fall on the federal and state governments.
Despite this increased need, unfortunately the Bush budget freezes funding for HIV/AIDS care and treatment. Clearly, we cannot rely on this budget to adequately provide care for those who are not covered by the healthcare safety net. We must fight for increased funding in the budget and we must expand the safety net. The problem will only grow as the recently passed tax cut drains resources from the budget for the next ten years.
Our nation lost valuable time and too many lives in the early stages of the epidemic because our national leaders did not provide the leadership that this epidemic required. Nearly 40,000 people had been diagnosed with AIDS and over 20,000 had died before President Reagan ever publicly addressed this crisis. To end the silence, those living with this disease joined with their partners, friends, and families to build a grassroots movement that would make their voices heard and force the government to respond.
A coalition of people living with HIV/AIDS, caregivers, community-based organizations, scientists, and policymakers successfully increased investments in research, prevention, and care. These increases dramatically improved the lives of people living with HIV and AIDS. The recent declines we have seen in AIDS deaths are a direct result of a strong commitment to HIV/AIDS research, and the therapies and services that have been made more widely available. Because these programs are not funded to reach all those in need, it is imperative that we eliminate the barrier to treatment for those with HIV under current Medicaid law.
Today, as we remember the loved ones we have lost and their caregivers, we must also renew our commitment to ending the HIV/AIDS epidemic. That commitment must include improved access to health care for people living with this disease. Last week the CDC reported that new HIV infections among young people - particularly young African American gay men - are surging. We must do more to protect this new generation from the suffering that is all too familiar for previous generations.
Passage of the Early Treatment for HIV Act to expand Medicaid coverage will allow people living with HIV to stay healthy and active, and we urge our Congressional colleagues and President Bush to join us in this effort.
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