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Medicaid will continue providing anti-HIV drugs

Medicaid will continue providing anti-HIV drugs

Mississippi Medicaid officials said Thursday that they'll work with the state health department to keep providing life-sustaining drugs for patients with HIV and AIDS. But a news release from Medicaid offered few details, and the program's spokesman was not available to answer questions. "There will be no interruption of the 1,600 HIV/AIDS patients receiving their customary drug regimen," said Medicaid's departing executive director, Warren Jones, whose last day on the job was Thursday.

To save money in Mississippi's rapidly growing Medicaid program, legislators voted to reduce the number of prescriptions available to each patient. Starting Friday--the first day of the new state budget year--a Medicaid patient can get five prescriptions per month, and no more than two of those can be brand-name drugs. Many HIV-positive people take a cocktail of three brand-name drugs. Shannan Reaze of Jackson, Miss., who's with the newly created AIDS Action in Mississippi, said buying one of the drugs could cost $300 to $600 a month--a burden for low-income people on the government health program.

"'If you can't afford to live, then we'll let you die.' That's what this policy says," Reaze said outside the state capitol on Thursday. Medicaid is a federal-state health program for the needy, aged, blind, and disabled and for low-income families with children. It covers about 780,000 Mississippians--roughly one in four people in the state. Robin Webb of Rankin County, Miss., who's also with AIDS Action in Mississippi , said some HIV-positive Medicaid participants have had trouble getting questions answered by Medicaid officials. "There's a level of trust that's broken down," Webb said.

A national doctors group, the HIV Medicine Association, sent Gov. Haley Barbour a letter on June 13 expressing concerns about how the Mississippi Medicaid prescription limits will affect HIV-positive people. Doctors say most antiretroviral medications are name-brand, and HIV patients need at least three to suppress the disease. If HIV disease isn't treated properly, it can become drug resistant. Rims Barber, who is leader of a Jackson, Miss.-based health advocacy group, the Mississippi Human Services Coalition, said Medicaid could end up spending more money if it doesn't provide patients the drugs they need to stay well and live at home. "If you're in a nursing home or hospital, you get all the drugs you need. But if you're in the community, you don't," Barber said. "You have to be hospitalized or institutionalized, and then Medicaid will pay the whole schmear." (AP)

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