Waiting lists have continued to grow for programs that help supply life-saving drugs to HIV/AIDS patients who are uninsured and unable to afford their medications.

This month 8,100 people were on waiting lists for AIDS Drug Assistance Programs in 13 states, an increase of more than 2,500 since January. Nearly half of those patients live in Florida.

According to the National Alliance of State and Territorial AIDS Directors, in January of this year, 5,550 people living with HIV/AIDS in 10 states were on a drug assistance program waiting lists. Nearly 2,900 of those patients lived in Florida. The Florida Bureau of HIV/AIDS waiting list now has 3,850 people. Some three-quarters of them live in seven counties: Broward, Duval, Hillsborough, Miami-Dade, Orange, Palm Beach, and Pinellas. Broward and Miami-Dade alone have over 1,600 people on the waiting list.

Florida’s program receives 90 percent of its funds from the federal government. The state has contended that the funding crisis is a result of the economic downturn. A non-profit group backed by drug companies is helping to provide drugs to people on Florida’s waiting list.

As part of its efforts to reduce the program’s costs, the state Department of Health held public hearings earlier this month in Tallahassee, Tampa, and Miami to get input on their proposals to lower the maximum income levels for people who can participate in the program.

Michael Rajner, legislative director of the Florida GLBT Democratic Caucus spoke at the Miami public hearing to oppose eligibility changes and propose alternatives. He wrote in an e-mail that a final decision likely would not come before August or September. The HIV/AIDS Bureau has to report its findings to the governor’s office, where the final decision on any changes to ADAP and other HIV/AIDS treatment and services programs would be made.

Jesse Fry, co-chair of the Florida HIV/AIDS Advocacy Network (which also opposes eligibility cuts) wrote in an e-mail that the governor’s office is busy during June and July signing and vetoing bills sent to that office from the latest state legislative session. Florida is also waiting on the outcome of budget discussions in Washington, which will determine the funding levels for drug assistance programs.

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