Senate stimulus package includes $ 155 million for HIV care

the $ 2 trillion stimulus package approved by the Senate on Wednesday includes $ 155 million in funding for people living with HIV who may be affected by the global coronavirus pandemic.

the full text of the plan, which was approved 96-0, is earmarking $ 90 million for the Ryan White HIV / AIDS program and $ 65 million for Housing Opportunities for People with AIDS (HOPWA). The first, which was established by federal law in 1990, helps fund drugs and treatment for low-income people living with HIV, while HOPWA provides assistance for the housing needs of this vulnerable population.

Rachel Klein, deputy executive director of the AIDS Institute, said advocates for people living with HIV are “delighted” to see these vital programs included in legislation, as Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, DN. Y., billed as “the greatest rescue program in American history.”

“This whole bill is designed to ensure that as we begin to see the economic impact of this epidemic, people have additional support to help them deal with it,” Klein told NBC News. “We need to make sure that people living with HIV are able to continue to receive the care they need and that these programs will have to adapt to this new environment.

Klein said the additional funding for the Ryan White program will help people “get the treatment they need, with as little disruption as possible.” A National Institutes of Health brief said people living with HIV are not at greater risk of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, if they take antiretroviral drugs daily and have an undetectable viral load. However, it could be compromised if their chronic immune disease medications were hampered in any way.

Klein said people living with HIV could be classified as high risk if they are among other groups more vulnerable to COVID-19, including the elderly and those with a history of respiratory infections. “People living with HIV tend to be older and they tend to have higher rates of cardiovascular or lung disease,” she said.

Almost half of the 1.1 million people living with HIV in the United States are over 50 years old, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In addition to expanding the Ryan White program to ensure these vulnerable groups can get health care during the COVID-19 outbreak, advocates have said funding for HOPWA is essential to ensure those who manage HIV by daily medications keep their viral suppression rates.

“When people are housed in an unstable manner, they cannot take their medication every day,” Emily McCloskey, director of political and legislative affairs for the National Alliance of State and Territorial Directors of Struggle, told NBC News. against AIDS. “They may not have access to or store their medicines, and they have many other priorities essential to their basic survival, such as food and shelter. Once they are in stable housing, they are able to shift their hierarchy of needs towards maintaining their HIV.

McCloskey noted that people living with HIV are more likely than the average person to face housing instability. The Kaiser Family Foundation reports that 42 percent of people living with HIV rely on Medicaid, a government program to guarantee access to care for low-income people for their health needs, against only 13% of the general population.

“We see a kind of reliance on public health infrastructure and insurance in a way that is not the same for the general population,” McCloskey said. “It is really important to ensure that these programs are strengthened and addressed. “

Following its passage in the Senate, the stimulus bill is awaiting a vote in the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives, where President Nancy Pelosi is said to have wrote his own version of the package. In addition to funding federal HIV programs, the Senate plan includes a $ 500 billion loan program for businesses amid a national economic downturn and more than $ 100 billion in funding for hospitals at the time. that they respond to the public health crisis.

Thursday afternoon there were over 75,000 confirmed cases of coronavirus in the United States, which have resulted in more than 1,100 recorded deaths.

If the stimulus package passes with funding for HIV care, it will largely be thanks to the work of LGBTQ advocates and lawmakers who have pushed for the needs of this vulnerable population to be addressed. Over 100 national rights groups – including Human Rights Campaign, GLAAD and Lambda Legal – signed a letter of March 11 urging federal authorities to ensure that LGBTQ people, who are disproportionately affected by HIV, “are adequately served during this epidemic”.

This plea was quickly followed by a letter from 11 Senate Democrats calling on the Department of Health and Human Services to reverse federal policies that negatively affect LGBTQ people and those living with HIV while seeking health care. This includes a 2019 proposal to authorize physicians and other health professionals refuse to treat people or participate in care that goes against their moral or religious convictions.

In one interview with NBC News last week, Senator Bob Menendez, DN.J. – who initiated the letter – said these communities are “at the very heart” of the COVID-19 crisis in the United States, but claimed they had been largely ignored in the Trump administration’s response to the ‘epidemic.

“They did a bad job of meeting the needs of the community as a whole,” Menendez said. “They certainly haven’t given special attention to communities with special needs.”

In addition to Schumer and Menendez, the letter was signed by Sens. Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin; Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut; Chris Coons from Delaware; Tammy Duckworth from Illinois; Kamala Harris from California; Amy Klobuchar from Minnesota; Gary Peters of Michigan; Chris Van Hollen from Maryland; and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts. The White House has yet to officially respond to the letter.

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