HIV/AIDS: Congress Reauthorizes Ryan White Act
Congress yesterday approved the conference committee version of the Ryan White CARE Act, agreeing to pay more than $1 billion annually for AIDS prevention and treatment programs, the Associated Press reports. The House passed the measure by a unanimous vote (411-0) and the Senate by unanimous consent. The reauthorization legislation accounts for HIV infections in addition to AIDS cases, specifically approving $20 million for programs to reduce HIV transmission from women to their infants, and $30 million for programs to encourage HIV-positive individuals to notify their partners. Bill supporters say the new funding formula, slated to go into effect in 2005, will provide more money for women, infants, minorities and patients living in rural areas (Abrams, Associated Press, 10/6). "While women and African Americans comprise the majority of new HIV infections, they also receive less appropriate care ... This is a direct result of the CARE Act's misplaced emphasis on AIDS data in determining funding and priority setting," Rep. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), the bill's sponsor, said. He added, "All of these changes, while long overdue, will do much to improve our nation's response to HIV/AIDS by ensuring medical access to all of those who are infected and by providing the best possible care, which is prevention" (Coburn release, 10/5). House Commerce health subcommittee Chair Rep. Mike Bilirakis (R-Fla.) said of the new funding formula, "By targeting resources to the front line of the epidemic, we will be able to reduce transmission rates and ensure the necessary infrastructure is in place to provide care to HIV-positive individuals as soon as possible" (Associated Press, 10/6). However, some lawmakers expressed concerns that the formula would limit funding in areas with more gay men. The original House-passed bill would have diminished San Francisco's funding by $40 million over five years, but the current legislation, supported by Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), will cut it by only 15%, or $7.5 million, over the same time period (Abrams, Associated Press, 10/5). According to CDC estimates, between 800,000 and 900,000 people are infected with HIV in the United States, and 40,000 more are infected each year (Coburn release, 10/5). The measure now moves on to the president for his signature (Associated Press, 10/6).
Response to Ryan
In praise of the House's reauthorization of the Ryan White CARE Act, AIDS Action Executive Director Claudia French said, "Congress has voted to stand by Americans with HIV/AIDS. ... This vote puts us one step closer to ensuring that individuals living with HIV/AIDS have somewhere to turn when they need help. ... AIDS is an issue that affects everyone and the House of Representatives has acted wisely to pass this important piece of legislation" (AIDS Action release, 10/5). Calling the bill a "solid, workable framework" and "lifesaving legislation," Patricia Bass, chair of Cities Advocating Emergency AIDS Relief, also lauded the decision, saying that for "thousands of the nation's most vulnerable residents, the CARE Act represents a lifeline to the medical care, medications and support services they need to stay alive" (CAEAR release, 10/5). Furthermore, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports that Georgia will benefit from the bill with an increase in state funding. Tony Braswell, executive director of AID Atlanta, said, "We should see the funds shift to the areas that represent the new face of AIDS, which is the Southeast and largely rural and minority populations." Jacque Muther, administrative director of the pediatric and adolescent HIV program at the Grady Infectious Disease Program, agreed that the new funding, "will more closely reflect the actual epidemic in our community and our state, which should put us in line for additional funding." According to Braswell, for each AIDS case Georgia spends "about 25% as much as San Francisco and about half as much as New York" (Staples, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 10/6).