Last week, US Senator Bill Nelson sent letters to both, President Barack Obama and Florida Governor Rick Scott, urging them to "make this a priority" for the growing crisis with our nation's AIDS Drug Assistance Programs. This was his first official correspondence with Governor Scott and I'm very proud of the Senator for making this a high priority.
Since last summer, I have been working very close with Senator Nelson, his staff and Members of Florida's Congressional Delegation to identify workable solutions to address our nation's failing safety-net programs known as AIDS Drug Assistance Programs (ADAP). The Senator has continue to support increased funding through the budget process and was disappointed when Republicans in the US Senate threatened to filibuster the passage of a 2011 appropriations bill during the lame duck session with a $60 million increase in funding for ADAP. Another concern is Florida's Medicaid Reform, which poses extreme limitations on the state's ability to adequately address the critical medical needs of its residents as in other states, like New York.
Senator Nelson has been monitoring the rapid decline of Florida's ADAP and fears the state will soon lose the ability to meet the critical needs of vulnerable Floridians for the months of February and March 2011.
In Senator Nelson's letter to President Obama, he wrote:
Since the economic downturn, Florida has been forced to put over 2,700 HIV/AIDS patients on a waitlist list to receive medication. This represents over half of the total patients on waiting lists nationwide. Recently, state officials announced that their ADAP program faces a significant budget shortfall, any may be unable to provide any medication from the beginning of February until a new round of Federal funding from the Ryan White Act becomes available on April 1.
Such a lapse in treatment can lead to a number of life-threatening conditions for the thousands of HIV/AIDS patients in Florida who rely on ADAP medication to maintain their quality of life as they struggle with this debilitating disease. State officials are working hard to find an interim source of funding for the program, but Florida has been hit disproportionately hard by the recession and the state is strapped for cash as it is.
Senator Nelson further acknowledged concerns with Florida's fiscal management of its ADAP by stating:
I will also encourage state officials to work with your administration to ensure that Florida's ADAP program is administered properly and that all money is spent as efficiently as possible.
Senator Nelson also sent a letter to Florida's new Governor Rick Scott, who has yet to address the crisis and asking him to "make this a priority" and asked that he:
"please try to find any additional state resources to keep the program fully operating in the next few months."
AIDS advocates in the State of Florida are eagerly waiting on the state legislature to solve the crisis and support a solution to prevent the mass disenrollment of vulnerable Floridians from its program. Last week, the Florida Senate Budget Subcommittee on Health and Human Services Appropriations held a hearing where health department officials briefed senators on the status of the state's program. Credit goes to Florida Senator Nan Rich, vice chair of the subcommittee, who requested the item be placed on the meeting agenda.
Similar discussions are expected to take place this week in the Florida House of Representatives.