The Austin Chronicle

About AIDS

April 16, 1999, Columns

If your rich uncle offered to add $2 to your investment portfolio for each $1 that you put in, don't you think it would be foolish not to take advantage of the opportunity? Yet that's what the Texas Legislature is about to do. They're walking away from $14 million in federal Ryan White Act funds because they're too cheap to pony up the state share of about $8 million (and this despite a surplus of $4 billion!).

The last couple of years have seen dramatic reductions in death from AIDS and improvement in the health and well-being of people living with HIV disease. It's all due to more effective medications and facilitated access to treatment. One of the major ways that medically indigent people gain access to these expensive drugs is through the state AIDS Drug Assistance Program (ADAP), which is established in each state and funded with state and matching federal dollars.

Texas has not increased its HIV funding since 1991, despite dramatic increases in HIV caseload. The Texas Department of Health acknowledges that the number of ADAP clients increased by one-third (6,000 to 8,000) in the current two-year cycle and will probably go up another 25% in the coming biennium. Until now, the only thing that has saved the lives of Texans dependent on an overdrawn ADAP has been emergency appropriations by Congress. We cannot expect that to be repeated.

Money spent on ADAP is truly an investment with serious returns that ought to appeal even to a Republican's heart -- or wallet. It goes to the basic drug therapies which keep HIV-infected people as well as possible, working and living productive (and tax-paying) lives. Failure to keep folks well will mean disease progression and very, very expensive hospitalization, plus unnecessary suffering and probable death.

The House and Senate have finished their independent actions with funding increases of only $2 million and $3 million, respectively. In conference committee there is still a chance to maximize our federal match. If the Legislature fails to do so, they will be penny-wise and (million) dollar-foolish, indeed.

--Sandy Bartlett, Community Information/Education Coordinator, AIDS Services of Austin

ASA Info Line: 458-AIDS

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