Florida Funding Gap Threatens AIDS Drug Help (AIDS Drug Assistance Program - ADAP)

HIV/AIDS patients who can't afford their drugs could go without them if funding runs out in February. But major manufacturers say they may supply the drugs to tide them over.
January 20, 2011
Miami, Florida

BY FRED TASKER
ftasker@MiamiHerald.com

Patients who need HIV/AIDS drugs but can't afford them could be in danger of going without if the Florida program that supplies the drugs runs out of money as threatened by mid-February, state officials said Wednesday.

The AIDS Drug Assistance Program has a $14.5 million funding gap that could last until the new funding year begins April 1.

``We're running out of money, and we're trying to help the patients through this six-week gap,'' said Tom Liberti, chief of the HIV/AIDS Bureau of the Florida Department of Health. ``We're exploring all our options.'' 

But Liberti said he's ``99 percent of the way'' toward working out an agreement in which major drug manufacturers will supply drugs to tide over the program.

Locally, the Miami-Dade HIV/AIDS Partnership, which advises the county on AIDS matters, will hold an emergency meeting Friday to discuss whether to reduce the number of nonessential drugs available to AIDS patients while keeping them supplied with life-saving antiretroviral medicine.

Doctors say it's important for newly diagnosed HIV patients to get antiretroviral drugs quickly to keep them from progressing toward AIDS and to reduce the chance of infecting others.

WAITING LIST

In Florida, ADAP has been providing drugs to 10,600 patients, with 3,000 of them in Miami-Dade and Broward. Short of money last year, the state on June 1, 2010, started putting new patients on a waiting list that now has an additional 2,800 people, including 685 in Miami-Dade and 475 in Broward, Liberti said.

Patients on the waiting list have been receiving antiretroviral drugs from major pharmaceutical companies' charity ``Patient Assistance Programs,'' but in some cases have been unable to get ``nonessential'' drugs that treat side effects.

``At present, no patients are doing without AIDS drugs,'' said Dan Wall, director of the Miami-Dade Office of Grants Coordination. But he said funding could run out by mid-February unless a solution is found. On April 1, another $100 million in federal AIDS drugs funding arrives in Florida, Liberti said.

Help may be on the way through Wellvista, a South Carolina nonprofit organization. The group, acting on behalf of medical manufacturers, helps provide drugs to patients who can't afford them. ``We have nearly every major manufacturer -- Merck, GlaxoSmithKline, Bristol-Myers Squibb and others,'' said Jeffrey Lewis, president of Heinz Family Philanthropies,
which is working with the drug companies. 

Also, state Sen. Joe Negron, a Stuart Republican, and others are working to persuade the Florida Legislature to provide money to help support the ADAP program, Liberti said.

Liberti blamed the poor economy and a list of applicants that has grown by 25 percent since 2008 to reach 13,000 people statewide. In 2009, the Legislature cut ADAP support by $1 million to $10.5 million. No additional funding was appropriated in 2010.

President Barack Obama has proposed an increase of $20 million for 2011, while The AIDS Institute and others are calling for an increase of $126 million. The federal government provides 49 percent of ADAP funding, down from 69 percent in 2000.

LIMITS

While funding is being worked out, the Miami-Dade HIV/AIDS Partnership may have to recommend temporary restrictions on certain nonessential medications like vitamins and aspirin, a spokeswoman said.

On Friday, the Partnership will hold an emergency meeting at the Behavioral Science Research building, 2121 Ponce de Leon Blvd., Coral Gables, to discuss such restrictions and how to deal with the financial crisis. The meeting is open to the public. Call 305-443-2000 for information.

Link to online article:  http://www.miamiherald.com/2011/01/20/2024309/funding-gap-threatens-aids-drug.html