As of March 29th, 2012, there are nearly 4,000 people living with HIV/AIDS (PLWAHs) across 11 states on wait-lists under the AIDS Drug Assistance Programs (ADAPs). Yet there is another ghostly number that exists because states have lowered financial eligibility -- and in some cases have introduced outdated medical criteria as a cost containment measure -- thus virtually shutting people out of care. This number is often referred to as the invisible waiting list. Some advocates have characterized these cost containment measures as “murder by proxy.”
The Health Resources & Services Administration (HRSA), under the U.S. Department of Health & Human Service (HHS), has stated unequivocally that using medical criteria in administering wait-lists in HRSA Programs is considered to be a discriminatory practice, and just recently the Institute of Medicine said ALL treatment naïve patients should be on anti-retroviral medication (ARV). Also, a study published last year (HPTN052) proved that those taking ARVs are 96 percent less likely to pass the virus onto their partner. Despite federal policy and the strong scientific evidence, medical criteria remains on the table in states like Ohio. The proposed rules give highest priority on the wait-list to PLWHA who are pregnant and who have CD4 counts lower than 201. The medical criterion makes no mention of an important aspect of HIV care, which is the Viral Load.
The rules proposed by the Ohio Department of Health (below) are oppressive for PLWHA, and they are indeed dangerous for public health. In essence, states implementing medical criteria result in creating a viscous cycle whereby "sick" patients are allowed to get better, and "healthy" patients are forced to get ill.
Medical criteria completely overlooks that as "healthier" patients get "sicker" the demand for medical care and treatment rises, and the cost benefit of treating someone with HIV-infection vs. not treating someone with HIV-infection has proven itself over the years. It is more cost effective to treat someone healthier, than to wait until they are sick. The Ohio proposed rules is not a cost-effective strategy for health officials, politicians and taxpayers.
Thirty 30 years after the HIV/AIDS epidemic began less toxic medicines are available to keep people alive and healthy, and to keep people productive so that they can provide for themselves and others. Many PLWHA can work, access health insurance, and lead normal productive lives. More importantly someone on medicine is less likely to transmit the virus.
Ohio HIV/AIDS advocates have decried against the proposed rules, arguing that the state is trying to implement these rules on the backs of the poor and vulnerable, especially those living with a potentially life threatening disease such as HIV/AIDS.
The Ohio Department of Health (ODH) has instituted the following medical criteria.
When OHDAP has a waiting list for program enrollment and subject to sufficient funding, applicants to the Ryan White Part B programs must meet one of the following medical guidelines to be eligible for expedited enrollment:
1. Pregnant women who meet all OHDAP eligibility criteria and who are not eligible for other programs which provide antiretroviral (ARV) medications.
2. Post-partum women (women who given birth within 180 days prior to applying to OHDAP) who meet all OHDAP eligibility criteria and who are not eligible for other programs which provide antiretroviral (ARV) medications.
If the OHDAP is able to enroll some but not all individuals from the waiting list (based on insufficient funds), applications from individuals who meet all OHDAP eligibility criteria and who are not eligible for other programs which provide ARV medications will be prioritized as follows:
Priority 1: Individuals with HIV and other extreme medical conditions such as, but not limited to, HIV-associated nephropathy or HIV related dementia. The applicant’s HIV-treating physician or nurse practitioner shall complete a medical waiver request
consistent with section 3701-44-04 of the Ohio Administrative Code.
Priority 2: Individuals with a history of AIDS-defining illness [see paragraph (C) of Appendix A to section 3701-3-12 of the Ohio Administrative Code for indicator diseases diagnosed definitively] and/or a nadir CD4 count of less than or equal to 200 cells/mm3 (or less than 14%). Documentation shall be provided by the HIV treating physician or nurse practitioner evidencing how the individual meets this priority.
Priority 3: Individuals with HIV and a nadir CD4 count between 201-350 cells/mm3. Documentation shall be provided by the HIV-treating physician or nurse practitioner evidencing how the individual meets this priority.
Priority 4: Individuals with HIV and a nadir CD4 count between 351-500 cells/mm3. Documentation shall be provided by the HIV-treating physician or nurse practitioner evidencing how the individual meets this priority.
Priority 5: Individuals with HIV and a nadir CD4 count above 500 cells/mm3. Documentation shall be provided by the HIV-treating physician or nurse practitioner evidencing how the individual meets this priority.
The motto of the Ohio Department of Health is "to protect and improve the health of all Ohioans"; but the unintended consequences that would result from the state implementing its proposed rules on medical criteria for ADAP would undermine that motto. Ironically, Ohio cannot afford to adopt this proposed rule because it will only cost the state more money in other health-related costs.
Not only has Ohio instituted the above medical criteria, they have also reduced financial eligibility from 500 percent of the Federal Poverty Level (FPL) to 300% FPL. Many other states have also reduced their FPL, thus shutting people out of care and treatment. The latest ADAP waiting list numbers, and states who have implemented other cost containment strategies, are made available by the National Alliance of State & Territorial AIDS Directors (NASTAD), and can be reviewed by downloading the ADAP WATCH!
Every person living with HIV/AIDS should have access to the care and treatment they need to remain alive, healthy and productive. PLWHAs seeking access to care and treatment should not be subjected to dangerous medicine!