AIDS Action Committee of Massachusetts Statement on Senate Budget
Statement by Rebecca Haag, AIDS Action President & CEO
"We are deeply disappointed with the Conference Committee budget cutting $1.5 million in the HIV/AIDS line item. This is the third year in a row that the HIV/AIDS line item has been cut by $1.5 million or more. Last year's cut of $2 million resulted in reduced prevention and screening programs, residential support services, non-medical case management for persons living with HIV/AIDS, and elimination of the regional Service Coordination Collaborative system.
"The state's investment in HIV/AIDS treatment and prevention over the last three decades has paid off with a 59 percent reduction in new HIV diagnoses over the last 10 years, which will result in savings of more than $1.6 billion in health care costs. Massachusetts has been successful in reducing new infections precisely because we've invested heavily in connecting people with care.
"It is sheer folly to step away from what is still a public health crisis in the black, Hispanic, and gay/bisexual communities. Blacks make up only 6% of the state's population, but they comprise 28% of those living with HIV/AIDS; Hispanics make up only 6% of the state's population, but they comprise 25% of those living with HIV/AIDS; and male-to-male sex and injection drug use are the leading reported exposure modes for HIV infection for those living with HIV/AIDS, accounting for 35% and 24% of all exposures, respectively. We need funding restored to end these disparities.
"At the same time, we are grateful that the final budget increased the cap for the state's HIV Drug Assistance Program, which provides life-saving HIV medication to the poor. That said, this will be a cost neutral move since the state expects to recapture this entire amount through a pharmaceutical drug rebate program. Providing medical care and life saving medications to those who are homeless, have substance abuse issues or are mentally ill are insufficient without the critical community-based services needed to stabilize them. Medication coupled with prevention and wellness programs are critical to long-term savings in health care.
"Over the last decade, state funding for HIV treatment and prevention has declined about 25 percent. During the same period, the number of people living with HIV and AIDS has increased by 42 percent. Today, there are approximately 18,000 people living with HIV in Massachusetts. They are some of the Commonwealth's most vulnerable citizens. With the cuts proposed this week, they are being asked to bear more than their fair share for solving the state's fiscal crisis.
"Last July, President Obama released a National Strategy on HIV/AIDS which outlines ambitious, but achievable, goals toward ending the epidemic. Massachusetts has long been a national leader in implementing effective public health programs that succeed in reducing HIV transmission and increase the health of those already infected. So it is particularly disappointing that the Commonwealth is stepping back from its commitment—a commitment that has no doubt saved countless lives, and eased the burden that can come with a diagnosis of HIV for thousands more."
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AIDS Action Committee of Massachusetts is the state’s leading provider of prevention and wellness services for people vulnerable to HIV infection. It provides services to one in six people in Massachusetts living with an HIV diagnosis. These services include HIV counseling and testing; needle exchange; mental health counseling; housing assistance; and legal services. AIDS Action works to prevent new HIV infections, support those affected by HIV, and tackle the root causes of HIV/AIDS by educating the public and health professionals about HIV prevention and care; and advocating for fair and effective HIV/AIDS policy at the city, state, and federal levels. Founded in 1983, AIDS Action Committee of Massachusetts is New England’s first and largest AIDS service organization. In 2013, AIDS Action formed a strategic alliance with Fenway Health that will allow the two organizations to work more closely together and improve delivery of care and services to people living with HIV/AIDS. Learn more at www.aac.org.