Cuts to HIV program will take lives
In a rather callous display of fiscal shortsightedness, the Texas Legislature has decided against providing additional funding to the state’s HIV medication program for low-income individuals.
This has resulted in a true life-or-death situation for thousands of desperate patients.
The program is a lifeline for individuals who would otherwise be unable to afford the costly drug combinations used to manage HIV infections, and without this assistance, many would be left with no means of obtaining treatment.
While the decision to freeze spending on the program will initially save $19 million, the state will soon be burdened with the increased cost of hospitalizing and caring for dying HIV patients.
An uninsured person with HIV faces an enormous financial burden.
Medications can cost over $16,000, and due to the increased prices of more effective treatments, this debt is incurred over an increasing number of years.
According to the Health and Human Services Comission of Texas, over a quarter of Texans do not have medical insurance — and seeing that HIV disproportionably affects low-income households, some form of assistance is a must.
Created in 1987, the Texas HIV Medication Program provides medication for over 14,000 low-income patients today, according to a Houston Chronicle article by Patricia Kilday Hart.
It currently operates on a budget of $109 million a year, but an ever-increasing enrollment and the rising cost of drugs have put a severe strain on its operation.
The Department of State Health Services projects a 14 percent jump in the number of people applying for the program over the next two years, but without additional funding these individuals will be turned away.
In addition, benefits for existing members will be reduced, with some even losing their eligibility due to more stringent requirements.
The consequences of the state’s decision can be measured in both monetary terms and in the number of lives lost prematurely. The indigent who are barred from the medication program will simply forgo treatment until hospitalization becomes necessary.
At this point, HIV infections are more difficult and costly to treat, and these costs will fall directly on state and local governments.
Indirectly, the financial load will be placed on the citizens, as hospitals increase their fees in order to make up for money that is not paid to them by the government.
Essentially, millions of dollars will be drained from state funds — a cost that far surpasses the amount saved by their funding measure.
In addition, those who are excluded from the program will suffer and die sooner than need be.
Modern medicine has essentially rendered HIV infections a chronic but manageable condition; but without treatment, the virus is a guaranteed death sentence.
As viral loads goes unchecked, immune systems collapse, and individuals are left susceptible to a horrifying array of opportunistic diseases. The lifespan of many individuals that should be counted in decades will now be counted in months.
Faced with a looming budget crisis, the state legislature is obligated to make difficult financial decisions. However, there is no place for austerity when lives hang in the balance.
The decision to provide no additional funding for the Texas HIV Medication Program is not only counterproductive, but also cruel to the thousands of Texans living with HIV who now find themselves without medication.
There is no excuse for the government to allow people to die over a savings that equals less than 10 percent of the state’s projected deficit.