Oregon voters in February will vote on whether to repeal an $800 million tax package passed by the state legislature last summer that could result in drastic budget cuts to state health programs if rejected. Deeply affected would be the state's Medicaid-backed Oregon Health Plan, which would lose $154 million and be forced to curtail several programs, including access to antiretroviral drugs for people living with HIV/AIDS, health officials announced this week. Supporters of the cuts say they make state government more efficient and that private charities and families can better care for some poor or disabled people. But health officials say that about 65,000 Oregonians, many of whom are HIV-positive, already have been forced to turn to pharmaceutical company charity programs for their medications. If additional cuts are made to the Oregon Health Plan, that number could skyrocket.
Dianne Danowski-Smith, a spokeswoman for the Oregon chapter of the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, said the charity programs will likely not be able to accommodate a huge increase in demand for an extended period of time. "These people can get the help they need without a strong Medicaid system in place, but only to fill the gap," she said.