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Thousands on HIV drugs desperate amid budget woes

Dec 16, 2010 5:54:00 AM - thestate.com
Cash-strapped states are cutting back on a program that provides free medicine to people with HIV, leaving thousands of patients to wonder where their drugs will come from and stirring fears of a return to the days when an AIDS diagnosis meant certain death.

At least 19 states have taken such steps as capping enrollment, dropping patients, instituting waiting lists, lowering the income ceiling for eligibility, and no longer covering certain drugs or tests.

The AIDS Drug Assistance Program is funded by the federal and state governments and run by the states. It provides free drugs in all 50 states and U.S. territories. But because people are living longer with HIV and the recession has created more demand for the program, states have been unable to keep up.

"It's very frustrating to be stuck in this position at this age and not feel well and be wondering if I am going to die any differently than the people who I helped die in the '80s," said Stephen Farrar, 55, of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., who has HIV and is going on Florida's waiting list. "Am I going to be one of those people?"

Health officials and advocates believe most people on ADAP's waiting lists are getting AIDS drugs free from pharmaceutical companies. But advocates say an unknown number are falling through the cracks of those programs, which provide only a patchwork of coverage and have widely varying income requirements.