Georgia lawmakers avert HIV crisis with millions in new funding

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Georgia lawmakers pumped an additional $15.44 million into a program for low-income people living with HIV, preventing a crisis that could have created a waiting list for life-saving assistance.

The funds, included in the state’s amended fiscal year 2021 budget, prop up the AIDS Drug Assistance Program. It provides HIV medications to about 12,000 low-income Georgians with little or no health insurance.

Demand for the assistance program has grown during the coronavirus pandemic, and Georgia continues to see the highest rate of new HIV diagnoses in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention. The program was near capacity, so without additional funds to bolster its $68 million annual budget, the Georgia Department of Public Health faced creating a waiting list – the only one of its kind in the nation. 

“We are very pleased that both the House and Senate put these additional dollars in there. It’s a critical program for Georgians living with HIV and AIDS who lack the ability to pay for medication out of pocket,” Jeff Graham, executive director at Georgia Equality, told Project Q Atlanta.

Lawmakers in the state House added the funds in January as they tweaked the state’s $26.3 billion dollar budget, according to the Georgia Recorder. The Senate later approved the funds, and Gov. Brian Kemp signed the revised state budget on Feb. 15.

“I am signing a budget that reflects our values as a state,” Kemp said. “By restoring education funding, making key investments in expanding internet access, prioritizing public health, giving 57,000 state employees a well-deserved bonus, and spurring economic development in every corner of our state, this budget ensures Georgia will continue being the best state to live, work, and raise a family.”

The $15.44 million in additional ADAP funds avoids creating a waiting list, according to Nancy Nydam, a spokesperson for the Georgia Department of Public Health. 

It’s been nearly a decade since state lawmakers added funds to the assistance program, Graham said. In 2012, Georgia had the largest waiting list in the U.S. for the program. The crisis ended with an influx of $8.43 million in federal funds. 

Graham said the additional funding will prop up the program through the end of the state’s current budget year in June. After that, federal COVID-19 relief funds could provide a financial boost to the program in the state’s fiscal 2022 budget, he added.

During a budget hearing earlier this month, Public Health Commissioner Dr. Kathleen Toomey said the HIV assistance program provides a critical lifeline during the pandemic. 

“It’s been extremely important over the years to be able to maintain individuals on treatment and particularly important now, given the pandemic and the challenges we’ve seen with individuals losing their employment and potentially their insurance and also being able to pay insurance premiums,” said Toomey, according to the Georgia Recorder.

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