AIDS program gets $1 million infusion | NevadaAppeal.com

AIDS program gets $1 million infusion

Told the program will run out of money in February, the Interim Finance Committee agreed Thursday to let Nevada’s Health Division use $1 million of next year’s budget to make sure low-income AIDS patients continue to receive medication.

Division Administrator Alex Haartz told lawmakers the program was hit with unexpected increases in the price of drugs used to control the disease, causing a $96-a-month jump in the cost of treating patients, as well as an increase in the number of people qualifying for the program. He said it now costs $941 a month for each of the 735 people in the state-federal program.

Sen. Bob Beers, R-Las Vegas, and Assembly Minority Leader Lynn Hettrick R-Gardnerville, said adding money to this year’s budget would arbitrarily commit the state to a higher annual level of state funding because federal rules don’t allow the state to reduce its share of total costs.

They urged Haartz to find another way, such as delaying payment of those drug bills until after the state gets its new federal appropriation of $2.5 million after April 1.

“We could be setting ourselves up for a huge increase,” Hettrick said.

Beers called for changes in eligibility, saying offering the program to everyone making less than 400 percent of poverty level might be too generous. He also suggested making patients contribute a portion of the cost, or capping the number of participants and creating a waiting list.

“Being put on a waiting list is waiting to die,” said Assemblywoman Chris Giunchigliani, D-Las Vegas. She said AIDS patients can’t be deprived of their medication, and Ways and Means Chairman Moose Arberry, D-Las Vegas, agreed urging the committee to approve the money transfer.

But Hettrick, Beers and Senate Majority Leader Bill Raggio, R-Reno, asked Haartz to clarify the federal rules, as well as nail down when the program would use up this year’s budget.

When he returned two hours later, Haartz gave them good news and bad news. First, he said, the federal government said it would not increase Nevada’s mandatory annual contribution to the program because of a one-time event, so putting the money into this year’s budget to cover the shortfall won’t cost the state in the future.

But he told them the program will definitely be out of money and unable to pay its bills next month unless the budget transfer is approved.

That said, the joint Senate-Assembly committee approved the transfer, with Beers and Hettrick opposed.

Haartz told the panel he will return to their April meeting with suggestions on how to reduce the costs, including attempting to get better deals on the expensive anti-AIDS drugs. He said they will also look into changing eligibility and the possibility of a co-pay for those who can afford to contribute.

— Contact reporter Geoff Dornan at gdornan@nevadaappeal.com or 687-8750.