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ODH Makes Cuts To AIDS Drug Program

Many Ohioans who depend on state assistance for their HIV and AIDS medications may have to look to other resources. The Ohio Department of Health announced Thursday cost-cutting measures it's taking to keep the program afloat amid an increasing number of clients.

The Ohio Department of Health has made major changes to its state HIV Drug Assistance Program. Among the changes include tightening eligibility, the formation of a waiting list and reducing the drugs it offers.

One major change is to eligibility. The state is lowering its financial eligibility cap from 500 percent above the federal poverty level, to 300 percent. That means people who make more than $32,500 a year cannot get HIV drug assistance.

This was Peggy Anderson's biggest fear. She leads the Columbus AIDS Taskforce.

ODH said people who are no longer eligible for the state program can apply for other patients' assistance plans.

But Anderson said if those patients do not meet the state's financial requirements, they likely will not meet other program requirements either.

"I think they're going to be limited. We have drug assistance programs through all the pharmaceutical companies are available. Typically their caps are at 200-250 percent as well. So we're fearful that that group of individuals won't be eligible for any of the services," Anderson said.

Better medicines, more testing and the economy have caused a large increase in the state's HIV drug assistance program. The number of people using it has doubled since 2005. Right now, there about 5,000 people enrolled in the program with about 100 new clients signing up every month.

And ODH said it cannot sustain the program with that kind of influx in patients. Ohio is not alone in its cuts. Other states have instituted similar changes. And some AIDS advocates worry the cost-saving measures will reverse decades of progress.

Jay Carey is an analyst with the ODH's HIV drug program.

"There used to be people dying with AIDS on a regular basis and now you're having people living with HIV. It's been a tremendous turnaround. While the reduction in our program services is going to have an impact on clients I certainly don't think it would reverse that trend," Carey said.

The changes take effect immediately. Existing clients will be notified and given 30 days to provide income documentation. New patients who meet the financial criteria will be prioritized based on medical need. A waiting list will be formed. Medications for cardiac conditions, diabetes and gastric problems will be removed from the drug list. ODH said the money used to pay for those medicines now will go toward HIV drugs.