About 150 people attended a Texas Department of Health public hearing on Thursday to discuss planned changes to the state's AIDS Drug Assistance Program that could result in as many as 2,500 people being cut from the program, the Austin American-Statesman reports. The program currently has about 12,500 HIV-positive enrollees, who receive free or steeply discounted anti-HIV drugs. Health department officials say the program will run a $34 million deficit over the next two years and have proposed restricting access to only those earning no more than 140% of the federal poverty level, or about $12,400 annually. The program is currently open to those earning 200% of the federal poverty level, or about $17,720 annually. AIDS activists say the change will remove about 2,500 people from the program and prevent as many as 50 new applicants from qualifying each month.
State representative Garnet Coleman said the state Board of Health should delay its decision on the criteria restrictions to give the legislature time to find funding for the program. "These are very expensive medications. Without them, people die," he said. But Gov. Rick Perry said it's too soon to make dire predictions about the proposed change. "I think you're making a doomsday scenario out of information that may or may not be true," he said. "I'm sure there will be lots of horror stories that people either come forward with or would like to drive the budget with over the course of the next four-plus months."
The Board of Health is scheduled to meet on February 27 to vote on the proposed changes.