State HIV funds sought as waiting list grows

The state’s waiting list for people with HIV to get government drug assistance is steadily growing — intensifying concerns that patients won’t get the medications they need.

More than 1,100 Georgians are on the waiting list for the state’s AIDS Drug Assistance Program (ADAP). That’s the second-longest list in the country behind Florida’s, says Jeff Graham of Georgia Equality, which runs an advocacy network for people with HIV.

Currently, the ADAP program, which serves more than 4,000 uninsured Georgians, gets about $12 million in state funding and $33 million in federal money. “It has saved lives,’’ Graham says.

The program needs about $5 million in additional state money, plus more federal funding, to eliminate the waiting list, Graham says.

But he says ADAP may face a $600,000 reduction in funding under a new state budget proposal.

A large majority of those on the ADAP waiting list are being helped by patient assistance programs run by pharmaceutical companies, Graham says. That corporate help with medications is not a long-term solution, he says.

The state Department of Community Health, which runs ADAP in Georgia, said Wednesday that by using anticipated federal funding,  the waiting list will be substantially reduced.

“Total alleviation of the waiting list will require time and resources at the state level as well as an estimated $13.5 million in funding,’’ the agency said in a statement. “While much of this funding is expected to be federal, continued financial commitment from the Georgia Legislature will be essential.’’

ADAP serves low and moderate income people who have no health insurance. Without enough funding to keep pace with demand for help, Georgia’s waiting list began last July.

P.J., an HIV patient who lives in Gwinnett County, is on the waiting list but gets help through a drug company program. He says he receives medications that would cost more than $1,000 a month out of pocket. Earlier, he went without the medications for six months. “Being back on my meds, I’m back to being myself,’’ says P.J., who declined to be identified due to privacy concerns.

Graham says the drug manufacturers’ aid can change depending on the companies’ rules and practices.

“There are some concerns that the companies will pull back,’’ Graham says.

The brand-name drug industry, PhRMA, notes that government programs such as ADAP may be at risk in states with budget crises.

It costs, on average, $11,000 a year to provide medication through ADAP. But without early access to medications, if a patient has to be hospitalized, without insurance, the cost could easily reach $100,000 or more.

Dr. David Satcher, former U.S. surgeon general, said in a recent AJC editorial, “It is unwise to use a one-size-fits-all approach to cut health care programs like ADAP. These are matters of life or death.’’

The waiting list problem could be largely solved in 2014, when health reform, if it survives court challenges, would allow many low-income adults to join the government Medicaid program, which covers the HIV drugs. “Seventy percent of those on ADAP would be eligible for Medicaid in 2014,’’ Graham says.