Responding to a federal report obtained by The Florida Independent that alleges that Florida has mismanaged funds for a program meant to supply HIV/AIDS medications to low-income citizens, Michael Rajner — legislative director of the Florida GLBT Democratic Caucus — says the state has downplayed how neglect has played an important part in its AIDS Drug Assistance Program’s ongoing funding crisis.
He also says that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Health Resources and Services Administration report shows how the state failed to maximize the impact federal and state dollars could have on the health of people living with HIV.
The Independent revealed Monday that the report indicates, among many other findings, that salaries for employees whose work is not related to the AIDS Drugs Assistance Program were paid with Drug Assistance Program dollars.
Rajner says that is unacceptable, “something that needs to be investigated further.”
“I would add that Florida missed revenue opportunities off this program,” Rajner says. “When the state pays off someone’s drugs, if they paid the copay and the premium, they qualify for the pharmaceutical rebate. Florida has missed out on the opportunity to recover millions of dollars that would have gone to expand access and medications to people who are critically ill, improving the overall health of the HIV/AIDS community in Florida.”
According to the report, if Florida’s Drug Assistance Program implemented an AIDS insurance assistance program and “funded co-pays and deductibles in addition to health insurance premiums, the State would be eligible for millions of dollars in rebates. Many states throughout the country recoup as much as a dollar to two dollars on pharmaceutical rebates for every dollar spent in an AIDS assistance insurance program.”
“This federal report will help individuals to become involved, and really understand how this impacts them,” Rajners says. “For the almost 4,000 people on the Florida ADAP waiting list, the question is: Was the ADAP funding deficit really a funding shortage? Could it have been averted? Could we have mitigated the impact and have a 1,000-person waitlist?”
“We are at a critical time,” he says. “We almost need to go back to our roots as an AIDS community. Given the complexity of funding, given the fear of AIDS service organizations to speak out against the state and organize their clients, we need to engage as individuals. We are losing a lot and will lose more if people living with HIV/AIDS continue to have a codependent relationship on service providers. Those providers need to find a way despite … fear of state retaliation to ensure that all the resources are provided to clients to empower and engage them to ensure access to treatment.”
As an example, Rajner cites the fact that the federal report was given anonymously to the Independent.
“This is a public record, and the anonymity just demonstrates how weak the HIV/AIDS advocacy community is in Florida,” he says. “It also shows how threatened these advocacy groups are by the state to possibly have their funding targeted.”
The state’s Bureau of HIV/AIDS yesterday launched a series of public hearings to discuss proposed changes to Drug Assistance Program eligibility.
Rajner says those hearings — information on upcoming Miami and Tampa hearings is available below — are an opportunity for citizens, doctors, and health care leaders to step up to develop recommendations to solve the Drug Assistance Program crisis.