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Senate committee
approves Ryan White bill

Senate committee
approves Ryan White bill

Senate committee votes 19-1 to approve Ryan White reauthorization bill

The Senate health committee voted 19-1 Wednesday to approve a bill to reauthorize the Ryan White CARE Act, which provides funding for HIV treatment and support programs throughout the nation. The bill includes revisions to Ryan White funding formulas to give more weight--and money--to rural and Southern states that some AIDS advocates say have been shortchanged by the program in the past. Other significant changes in the bill include requirements that 75% of all Ryan White funds be spent on primary care, that all facilities receiving federal AIDS funds conduct mandatory HIV antibody testing, and that Ryan White funds unused by any state be redirected to the AIDS Drug Assistance Program to provide antiretroviral drugs to low-income HIV-positive Americans.

Other changes to the act's funding formulas include factoring in the number of HIV-positive people currently living in an area rather than basing grant amounts purely on a region's cumulative number of AIDS cases, and creating a funding tier system so that both large and small cities receive adequate funding.

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, a New York Democrat, was the only senator to vote against the bill. She said she could not support the bill because it shifts money away from urban areas that have large numbers of HIV patients. New York State could lose up to $20 million a year under the new funding formulas. California also could lose tens of millions of dollars in federal AIDS grants, health officials say.

The full Senate is expected to address the bill later this month or in early June. The House is expected to address its version of the Ryan White reauthorization bill next month.

While AIDS advocates praised the lawmakers for their work in reauthorizing the key AIDS funding program, they still worry that not enough money is being allocated to the Ryan White Act to meet the needs of all low-income HIV-positive Americans.

"The Ryan White CARE Act is in desperate need of increased funding so that it can continue to meet the needs of low-income Americans living with HIV/AIDS," said Human Rights Campaign president Joe Solmonese in a press statement. "Just redistributing scarce funds won't do the job at a time when over half a million Americans with HIV/AIDS still lack adequate access to health care. While we are pleased that this bill is moving forward, we caution the Senate to ensure this vital program is strengthened, not weakened, as it moves forward." (The Advocate)

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