A bill sponsored by senators Gordon Smith (R-Ore.) and Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) that would expand Medicaid coverage to HIV-positive people who have yet to develop AIDS was introduced in Congress on Monday, the Boston-based Treatment Access Expansion Project reports. Currently, Medicaid requires that HIV-positive people be disabled in order to qualify for health care services. The Early Treatment for HIV Act (ETHA), which has 26 legislative sponsors, would allow states to expand Medicaid coverage to those who are living with HIV but not yet considered disabled. Studies show that providing health care services and antiretroviral drugs to HIV-positive people before they become seriously ill could reduce the death rate of HIV-positive Medicaid participants by 50%, by slowing HIV disease progression. The bill would actually help lower Medicaid costs by keeping low-income HIV-positive people healthier longer, which in the long run would lower hospital costs and emergency care linked with AIDS-defining opportunistic infections. "ETHA gives states the option of providing earlier health care access, giving them an incredible opportunity to reduce AIDS death rates and save money," says Laura Hanen of the National Alliance of State and Territorial AIDS Directors. "ETHA gives states the opportunity to bring their Medicaid eligibility rules in line with federal government guidelines on the standard of care for treating HIV."
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