Tom Liberti, director of the state Department of Health’s Bureau of HIV/AIDS spoke over the weekend at an AIDS Drug Assistance Program emergency summit in Fort Lauderdale, and told The Florida Independent the department has not yet reached an emergency agreement to supply 6,000 Florida Drug Assistance Program patients their medications through the end of March.

“I don’t want to lay out a plan,” Liberti said when asked what his office would do if, on Monday, there was still no agreement in place. “If we would tell the legislature or the governor, they might recommend something. The end solution is money.”

He said his office would continue to negotiate.

Liberti told summit participants on Saturday that his office and Welvista were negotiating through the weekend trying to resolve pending legal issues, as well as the transfer of electronic information of patients who would receive their medication under this emergency agreement.

Welvista is a nonprofit organization based in South Carolina and founded in 1993 that “provides a single source through which healthcare providers, healthcare facilities and pharmaceutical companies can donate their resources.”

Welvista would supply anti-retroviral drugs donated from the pharmaceutical companies directly to Florida HIV/AIDS patients, who otherwise will not get their medication during February and March.

The need for this emergency two-month donation of drugs from pharmaceutical companies distributed by Welvista comes as the result of a funding crisis that has left the Florida AIDS Drug Assistance Program without the funds to give people impacted by HIV and AIDS who live in this state their anti-retroviral medications.

This is a national funding crisis, but Florida has well over 2,800 people on a waiting list — more than half the people across the U.S. on a Drug Assistance Program waiting list. Some of them, and nobody knows the exact number, are getting their medications through pharmaceutical assistance programs.

According to Liberti, the Florida crisis will be resolved in the short term in April when the state receives $215 million in federal funding for the next fiscal year, but the reasons that created what has been called a perfect storm will persist. (See Liberti’s full summit presentation below.)

Murray Penner, deputy executive director at the National Alliance of State and Territorial AIDS Directors, told summit participants the Fair Pricing Coalition has worked with Liberti’s office and Welvista to negotiate this agreement, a potential one-time solution to secure medication over the next two months.

The Fair Pricing Coalition “is an ad hoc group of activists who advocate with the pharmaceutical industry regarding the price of HIV and hepatitis drugs.”

Penner made it clear that this is only a short-term solution and that people and organizations that advocate for people living with HIV and AIDS in the U.S. need to explore strategies that help propose long-term solutions for the  funding crisis.

Brandon Macsata — CEO of the ADAP Advocacy Association, which organized the emergency summit — said that nobody really knows what is going to happen in 2011 with federal funding appropriations for programs like the Drug Assistance Program.

William Arnold of the Community Access National Network said during the summit, “We are stuck with last year’s [federal] funding,” and that Congress is relying on continuing budget resolutions. “There are new people in Congress. They have no staff, no offices. Advocates need to wait until this environment settles down,” Arnold said. “There will be changes to AIDS advocacy but it is hard to know what those changes are.”

“We believe that people living with HIV/AIDS deserve proper care and treatment, and in this situation drugs,” Christine Campbell, from Housing Works, told participants.

“We need more money,” Campbell said. “Funds must come from the federal, state, local levels as well as pharmaceutical companies and private donors.”

Summit participants agreed that all types of direct action — letter writing, call-in days, street advocacy and lobbying — are necessary to get the attention of decision makers.

Liberti’s presentation:

Florida ADAP January 2011

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