Citing fears over the expected loss of life, the Texas HIV Medication Advisory Committee asked the state on Friday to delay budget cuts to the Texas HIV Medication Program, the state's official AIDS Drug Assistance Program. Under a state health department-proposed regulation that would lower eligibility limits for the program, some 1,700 people could lose coverage of their anti-HIV drugs beginning in January, and an additional 2,500 people could lose coverage by July.
"We are horrified at the impact that this has on HIV-infected patients in Texas, and we request that the [state health department] board delay it until the last possible moment," said a motion passed by the committee after an hour of often angry testimony from two dozen citizens, mostly from Houston.
The HIV medication program faces an estimated budget shortfall of $37 million in the next three years, health officials say. They argue that without a cutback, money will run out for drugs for everyone in the program at some point in any given year. That argument did not fly with witnesses before the advisory group, who would lose the drugs altogether. The men and women represented a range of ages, races, and personal backgrounds, according to the Houston Chronicle.
"The women are the ones who are going to be hurt most by this, women with children," said Terrence Morgan. He told the committee that he and his wife suffered from HIV for eight years but are doing well now because of the medications.
Meeting participant David Carlton said those with the authority to cut Texans from the drug program are exercising power over life and death: "If we take this approach, I think a lot of people are going to die. I don't want to be one of them."
Lou Vanech noted that several people have congratulated health officials for their hard work to resolve vexing issues, but he said, "With my life in the balance, I don't think you've worked hard enough. I don't think bean-counting bureaucratic solutions are the answer when people's lives are on the line."