Democratic Leader Richard Gephardt (D-MO), Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and 66 of their colleagues today sent a letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Donna Shalala, urging her to expand Medicaid to low-income people who are HIV-positive but have not yet developed symptoms of HIV disease. "It is unconscionable to deny people living with HIV the drugs we know can help keep them well simply because they have no health insurance or are not yet sick enough to qualify for Medicaid," said Gephardt. "In light of what the latest research is telling us, I join my colleagues in the fervent hope that the Administration will quickly take the necessary steps to fill this unjustifiable gap in our current Medicaid policy."
Under current Medicaid regulations, people with HIV infection must become sick and disabled before they can receive benefits. Yet waiting for the disease to progress to this point runs counter to recommendations developed by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and a distinguished panel of medical experts. They have advised early treatment with protease inhibitors -- before symptoms develop -- for many people in the early stages of HIV disease. While this does not guarantee that fatal complications will be averted or delayed, there is evidence to suggest it can keep people with HIV healthier for a longer time. "Powerful new drugs have given people with HIV renewed hope in fighting this disease. It is imperative that our government health care programs catch up with the recommendations of government health care experts," Pelosi said.
New research released at the just completed 12th World AIDS Conference in Geneva provides further evidence that treatment of HIV infection early in the course of disease is both medically beneficial and cost effective. A cost effectiveness study from the University of California, San Francisco, reports that, "expansion of the US Medicaid system to provide wider access to combination antiretroviral therapy would prevent thousands of deaths and AIDS diagnoses, leading to 14,500 more years of life for persons with HIV disease over five years." The study found that cost neutrality was within reach and that "the program is affordable from a federal perspective."
"While government researchers issue hopeful statements about the benefits of early therapy and news reports herald a new age for people with AIDS, Medicaid trails the science," Pelosi said. "We must act now to expand access to these very important drugs for low-income uninsured people with HIV."
Cosigners to the letter to Sec. Shalala include Reps.:
Nancy Pelosi Sam Farr José Serrano Richard Gephardt Louis Stokes Anna Eshoo David Bonior Lois Capps Harold Ford Maxine Waters Stephen Horn Martin Meehan Henry Waxman Luis Gutierrez Vic Fazio Xavier Becerra Martin Frost Sheila Jackson-Lee Fortney Pete Stark Rosa DeLauro Bennie Thompson Patsy Mink Robert Brady Danny Davis Constance Morella George Miller Eleanor Holmes Norton Tom Coburn Nick Lampson Elizabeth Furse Jim McDermott William Delahunt Thomas Barrett Maurice Hinchey Lloyd Doggett Bernard Sanders Carrie Meek Earl Hilliard Nydia Velázquez Robert Matsui Nita Lowey Zoe Lofgren Kevin Brady Carolyn Maloney Jerrold Nadler Tom Lantos Neil Abercrombie Barbara Lee Sidney Yates Diana DeGette Loretta Sanchez Barney Frank Edolphus Towns Brad Sherman Donald Payne Esteban Torres Carlos Romero-Barceló Ellen Tauscher Elijah Cummings John Lewis James McGovern Ken Bentsen Steny Hoyer Gary Ackerman Charles Schumer Lynn Woolsey Juanita Millender-McDonald Bob Filner
Att: Letter to Sec. Shalala
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