President Bush on Monday signed into law sweeping changes to the nation's Medicare system that many AIDS activists say will affect up to 50,000 HIV-positive people who receive antiretroviral drugs through Medicare's sister program, Medicaid. The National Association of People With AIDS on Monday called on the Bush administration and Congress to implement several protections for HIV-positive Medicare enrollees to ensure they will still have access to the life-saving medications. "The bill calls for some six million low-income elderly and disabled Medicare recipients who also receive Medicaid to be barred from access to Medicaid drug benefits when this bill takes effect in 2006," said Terje Anderson, NAPWA executive director. "Assurances made by the Bush administration that 50,000 people living with AIDS will not be harmed must be supported with concrete plans and specific program advice."
AIDS activists have criticized the measure, which passed the House by a 220-215 vote and the Senate by a 10-vote margin, because it contains a provision focusing on Medicare patients who receive prescription medications through Medicaid--so-called "dually eligible" program enrollees--that limits access to only two drugs per medication class. HIV-positive people typically take three or more antiretrovirals to control HIV infection. The Medicare overhaul also creates a formulary of drugs that will be covered, with any medication not on the list being unavailable to program enrollees. "HIV is a disease which requires careful prescribing, so limiting which medicines can be provided to people living with AIDS can threaten our health and lives," said Anderson. "Health care providers must have access to all antiretroviral medications approved by the Food and Drug Administration to provide U.S. Public Health Service standard of care."
There was no word from the White House or lawmakers as to whether specific protections for HIV-positive Americans would be written into the Medicare overhaul plan.