Singer Elton John yesterday sent a letter to Gov. Rick Scott urging him to protect the AIDS Drug Assistance Program, which helps low-income HIV/AIDS patients receive vital medications.

According to the South Florida Sun-Sentinel:

John, founder of the Elton John AIDS Foundation, wrote to Scott Tuesday after hearing the Department of Health was considering changes in income eligibility.

A department spokeswoman said there are no immediate plans to change the AIDS Drug Assistance Program, though it held hearings to discuss the possibility of lowering income requirements to participate.

HIV/AIDS patient advocates, opposed to the eligibility cuts, recently told The Florida Independent that a final decision from the governor’s office on this proposal should come in August or September.

The Miami Herald reports that Scott’s office has responded to emphasize that:

* Gov. Scott did NOT veto any funding for AIDS-related programs in the budget signed last week.

* Florida spends more than $200 million on AIDS drug assistance and other AIDS health initiatives each year.

Scott’s response does indicate that the Department of Health has proposed to change the eligibility standard for the Drug Assistance Program from 400 percent of Federal Poverty Level to 200 percent.

The Florida Bureau of HIV/AIDS held hearings in April and May to hear input on the proposed reduction. This latest cost-containment proposal would make it harder for HIV patients to access the federally funded Drug Assistance Program. If the bureau’s proposal is adopted, a patient would have to earn roughly $26,000 or less to qualify.

Scott’s statement, published in the Herald, adds:

* This change will ensure that Florida is allocating the dollars appropriated for AIDS drugs to those who are most needy and most vulnerable. Florida’s waiting list for AIDS drug assistance is currently more than twice as large as any other state. Florida also has a more generous eligibility standard than most other states.

federal report, though, alleged that federal audits and site visits showed that Florida’s Bureau of HIV/AIDS failed to use “available resources in the best interest of people living with HIV and AIDS” while administering its Drug Assistance Program. The report, written by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Health Resources and Services Administration, alleges that administrative, service and fiscal concerns raised in prior audits and visits remain unresolved and unanswered.

In June 2010, Florida’s HIV/AIDS bureau created the Drug Assistance Program waiting list, another cost-containment measure. Despite the fact that 13 states have a waiting list (.pdf), Florida has by far the longest in the nation. As of May 20, there were more than 3,900 HIV-positive Floridians on the state’s waiting list.

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