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January 22nd, 2003 Chris Lydgate | News Stories
 

Budget cuts menace AIDS patients

     
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AIDS advocate Thomas Bruner says most HIV patients can't afford their prescription drugs without government help.
Add yet another vulnerable population to the mounting pile of victims of Oregon's budgetary meltdown: people with HIV and AIDS.

If Measure 28 fails next week, the state is poised to chop the so-called "medically needy" program, which covers certain healthcare expenses for 8,900 low-income Oregonians who are aged, blind or disabled--including hundreds of people diagnosed with HIV or full-blown AIDS.

These folks have washed up on a bureaucratic desert island: Although they're poor enough to qualify for the Oregon Health Plan, they're not allowed to join it because they're already on Medicare. Unfortunately, Medicare does not pay for mental-health or chemical-dependence treatment or prescriptions.

Prescriptions are a matter of life and death for many HIV patients, whose drugs, consisting of nucleoside analogs and protease inhibitors, cost anywhere from $1,000-$2,000 a month. Advocates fret about the consequences. "It's going to be dreadful," says Thomas Bruner, executive director of the Cascade AIDS Project.

Many people with severe mental illness will also lose their prescription coverage. "There will be horrible consequences in the ER," says Elizabeth Byers, of the Oregon Health Action Campaign. "People depend on these drugs to keep them stable."

In addition to ending the medically-needy program, the state's financial crisis wiped out funds for mental-health services for 3,730 low-income kids, dental care for 400,000 low-income adults, childcare subsidies for welfare moms seeking work and monthly payments to families who have adopted 7,700 special-needs kids.

 
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