September 12, 2009

Ryan White Legislation Set to Expire

From Baltimore OUTloud, posted in its entireity.

"For all those whose cares have been our concern, the work goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives and the dream shall never die." These are the words of the late Ted Kennedy. He went on to co-champion the landmark legislation for people living with HIV/AIDS – the Ryan White CARE Act.

Since 1991, programs under the Ryan White Act have been providing care to persons living with HIV/AIDS, serving over 500,000 people yearly. On September 30th, without further action from Congress, the Ryan White program will disappear. Yes. That means the end of primary and supportive care for men, women, children, and families living with HIV/AIDS who cannot afford care. In a time when every 9½ minutes, someone is the U.S. is infected with HIV, there will be no safety net for care for those living with this disease, no help with medications, no medical support to survive.

How did this happen? Since its inception in 1990, the Ryan White program has been reauthorized in five-year intervals. In 2006, Congress approved a three-year extension with a clause that repeals the legislation should Congress not pass new legislation by September 30, 2009.

The state of Maryland stands to lose 65 million dollars in medical services dollars based on the lack of action by Congress to assure continuance of this ever so important legislation. Why is it important? Maryland ranks fifth among states and Baltimore ranks second to only Washington D.C. among metropolitan areas in this country when it comes to HIV/AIDS case counts according to the Center for Disease Control’s surveillance report from 2007.

The impact of HIV/AIDS has been severe on communities that have been the targets of social discrimination and poverty. Many people are working and uninsured due to situations that can be directly tied to their perceived worth by the powerful. Race, sexual orientation, and even gender bias still have major influence. Some of our citizens have not seen equality in opportunities and consideration when determining where the best of the United States resources are applied due to that observable fact.

The current wrangling over the reform of our medical systems has only placed further burden on those who would like to get the attention of our legislators before the last five weeks of these programs (Ryan White) expire.

Under the guise of saving our citizens, ludicrous propaganda about Adolph Hitler and Communism have been used by the powerful to move the gullible into an alliance that if allowed will do more harm to those in the most need. Allowing the life saving services provided by Ryan White programs for communities in "severe need" to lapse while struggling to perpetuate a failing health care system will be the by-product of the fear mongering and self-preservation of special interest groups.

Ryan White programs have set high marks for breaking down the impact of stigma associated not only with HIV/AIDS, but often on the communities most impacted as well. To be gay, African American, Latino, Asian, transgendered, female, in recovery, or part of any sexual minority has been challenging in this society.

These programs (Ryan White) have been successful in reaching out to our most distressed communities and getting the health care where it is needed by breaking down the barriers built by discrimination that precedes the HIV/AIDS epidemic in our country. As long as we have the intolerance witnessed during the shouting matches about health care reform, we will need Ryan White.

According to the CDC, 6,000-9,000 people in Maryland maybe HIV positive and not know it. A great number of our citizens still arrive at medical care facilities only when their illness is so acute that is in an emergent state that can no longer be ignored. It is not a choice by those in need; often it is their only opportunity to receive some sort of care. The additional costs for acute care of uninsured citizens are staggering, and in the end they are born by Medicaid or Medicare, both receive funds through tax systems.

Ryan White programs specialize in reducing those numbers where our current health care system has failed miserably. Until there is something in place and showing results, we need Ryan White programs.

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