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Democrats ask HHS to reconsider AIDS funding rule

Democrats ask HHS to reconsider AIDS funding rule

Three House Democrats on Thursday sent a letter to Health and Human Services secretary Tommy Thompson asking him to reconsider new oversight rules imposed on any HIV/AIDS organization that receives federal funding. House minority leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), minority whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), and representative Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) asked HHS to revoke a new rule, announced in July, that state or local health agencies must approve all HIV prevention material created by local HIV/AIDS organizations before the material is released to the public. The lawmakers say the groups already rely on local review panels to ensure that the information is accurate and appropriate for local residents to receive and that expanded oversight is unnecessary. "This new requirement has yet to be justified by [the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention], is not accompanied by new funding, and has caused concerns among state HIV/AIDS directors," the lawmakers wrote in the letter. HHS spokesman Tony Jewell said requiring local health boards to approve prevention material is designed to protect the HIV/AIDS agencies by giving them "an extra safeguard" if members of Congress or others express concerns about their materials. Congressional Republicans during the past two years have spearheaded government investigations into agencies they claimed were misusing federal HIV prevention dollars to promote sexual activity or for materials that were obscene. "By having those programs reviewed at the front end, that will hopefully put off federal scrutiny on the back end," Jewell said. The new rules also say programs must expand the membership of their review panels from solely HIV/AIDS experts and community members to a "reasonable cross-section of the general population." The Democrats wrote that this change could threaten to undermine the effectiveness of HIV/AIDS campaigns because people outside at-risk communities may not discuss the risks of drug use and sexual behaviors in the most frank and culturally appropriate terms. "It could result in materials that are bland and ineffective," they wrote. "Such a shift would reduce the effectiveness of HIV prevention activities and cost lives."

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