AIDS Drugs Reaches More Patients

Friday, March 30th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) - The AIDS Drug Assistance Program is getting more medicine to more low-income patients than ever before, though wide variations among states remain, a report finds.

The 13-year-old program pays for revolutionary but expensive drugs that have helped keep thousands of people with HIV alive. It is targeted at patients who earn too much to qualify for Medicaid, the health insurance program for the poor, but who do not have any or adequate private insurance.

Drugs to fight AIDS typically will cost $10,000 to $15,000 for just one year.

Most of the money comes from the federal government, part of the Ryan White CARE Act. States can add their own money to serve more people.

The program spent $724.5 million last year, a 9 percent increase over 1999, with 82 percent of the money coming from Washington, said the report released Thursday by the Kaiser Family Foundation.

Fourteen states contributed none of their own money, but most of the large states spent significant sums: $44.6 million in California, $10.4 million in Texas, and about $9 million each in Pennsylvania, Florida and New York.

Several states reported shortfalls last year, forcing them to create waiting lists, cap spending per person and limit the choice of drugs.

Eligibility also varies significantly from state to state. To qualify in North Carolina, a participant's income must be below $10,438, or 125 percent of the federal poverty level. But in New York, it can reach $44,000, or more than 500 percent of poverty.

Still, states have narrowed the gap, with six states increasing eligibility ceilings since last year's report. Nearly two in three states now allow anyone with an income below 300 percent of poverty to qualify, or $25,050 per year.

All states except for South Dakota now pay for the drugs that fight the AIDS virus itself and these medications, known as anti-retroviral drugs, account for the bulk of the program's spending.

There is wide variation in coverage for drugs that fight the infections that come along with it. Four states, Colorado, Louisiana, Montana and Utah, do not cover any of these infection-fighting medicines and 17 cover fewer than 10 of them. New York, meanwhile, covers more than 400 of these drugs.

``ADAP programs continue to fill the gaps for many people with HIV,'' said Drew Altman, president of the Kaiser Family Foundation. ``The challenge facing the federal government and the states today is how to meet the growing need in the face of state budget pressures and rising drug prices.''