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HITTING CAPITOL HILL TO PROTECT THE RYAN WHITE CARE ACT

Posted by Tim Murphy , August 14, 2013

HITTING CAPITOL HILL TO PROTECT THE RYAN WHITE CARE ACT

Starting this week, members of the Ryan White Working Group, which is a part of the Federal AIDS Policy Partnership, are visiting key staffers in the offices of House and Senate Democrats and Republicans. The reason? To discuss the future of the Ryan White CARE Act, the largest provider of services for people with HIV/AIDS. (The CARE Act may be best known for ADAP, which provides HIV treatment, medication and insurance coverage assistance to people with no other means of coverage.) The current version of the CARE Act technically expires September 30 but thankfully includes no “sunset” provision. That means it’ll go on providing funding and services as is until Congress can properly reconsider it.

That’s good news, according to Bill McColl, political director of AIDS United, one of the groups with advocates doing visits. (Others include the Ryan White Medical Providers Coalition, the National Alliance of State and Territorial AIDS Directors and The AIDS Institute.) The Affordable Care Act, otherwise known as “ObamaCare,” kicks in January 1, meaning that Ryan White recipients in many states will be able to get health coverage either through expanded Medicaid programs or through coverage plans available on new state-by-state health care exchanges. No one quite knows how those new options will mesh with Ryan White/ADAP, which is why McColl says the Ryan White Working Group is urging congresspeople to simply leave Ryan White alone for the moment to see how everything comes together.

Says McColl: “We want to make sure that Ryan White recipients get into the new options appropriately and that they continue to have access to Ryan White benefits like case management, transportation to and from doctor visits, translation and legal services, food, nutrition and access to emergency housing. They may also need continued Ryan White coverage of deductible and copays on their health plans. We don’t want to be putting up new barriers to treatment, especially now that we know scientifically that good HIV treatment also means good HIV prevention.”

Another reason to leave Ryan White alone right now, says McColl, is that in a congressional climate of radical sequestration (across-the-board budget cuts), this is no time for Republicans to be eyeing Ryan White for reductions. Already, the program, funded at $2.3 billion, has lost nearly $150 million. Just last week, Janet Weinberg, COO at GMHC, had a column on HuffingtonPost about how the cuts have meant less staffing, nutritious meals, legal counseling and HIV testing at her agency.

Fortunately, says McColl, Democratic and Republican offices the working group has visited—he declined to name the offices, saying the meetings were private—seem to be in agreement that Ryan White/ADAP serve an essential purpose. McColl said that, currently, there were no actual HIV-positive Ryan White recipients among the working group to tell Hill staffers directly how the program has benefited their lives. However, according to Christine Campbell, Housing Works’ vice president for national advocacy and organizing, working group members “were armed with some powerful stories form people living with AIDS about the impact of Ryan White in their lives.”

McColl urged that advocates and people living with HIV/AIDS in individual states, especially in the South, organize such visits to their reps on Capitol Hill. (AIDS United provides this toolkit to help plan such visits.

They’re crucial, he stresses. “We’re out there right now telling Congress that we finally have the ability to reverse infection rates, and Ryan White is part of that. Now is not the time to stop funding on it. We need to make it stronger.”

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