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Officials Try To Cut Costs In HIV Medicine Program

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Texas State Capitol

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AUSTIN (AP) – State officials overseeing an HIV medication program will seek ways to contain costs after the program failed to get money from the Legislature to make up a projected $19.2 million shortfall.

Patient advocates worry that the Texas AIDS Drug Assistance Program, which serves more than 15,000 Texans, will be closed. A state health official said Friday that no decision has been made.

Dr. Adolfo Valadez, an assistant commissioner of the Department of State Health Services, said at a meeting of the Texas HIV Medication Advisory Committee that his team will work to contain costs in the program. The assistance program costs $97 million this year.

In addition to tighter enrollment criteria, other possibilities include eliminating more expensive drugs and asking drug companies for discounts, according to a report in Saturday editions of the Austin American-Statesman.

The shortfall is scheduled to occur beginning Sept. 1, 2012. The drugs are expensive, and most people with HIV or AIDS can’t afford them.

“You could take a very cold, hard line” on program eligibility, said Dr. Philip Keiser, advisory committee chairman and a specialist in infectious disease at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston.

Florida faced a similar shortfall and made some “very draconian cuts that wouldn’t pass muster in Kenya,” Keiser said. “If we do that, I promise, there will be people who die from this.”

Gov. Rick Perry signed a provision that was added to the main budget bill directing Texas health officials to request money from the state’s Medicaid program for the needy if HIV medication funding is insufficient. However, the approved budget left a projected $4.8 billion shortfall in Medicaid that the next Legislature will face starting in January 2013.

Seeking funding from Medicaid is “smoke and mirrors,” said Lynda Blakeslee, grants manager for the David Powell Clinic in Austin, which treats people with HIV and AIDS.

Randall Ellis, senior director of government relations for Legacy Community Health Services of Houston, said he was upset to hear the state department would seek to contain costs first. He said the agency has provided little information and has not answered questions about the program for months.

Valadez apologized and said many answers aren’t known.

(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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