Thursday, August 11, 2016

North Carolina Approves ADAP Premium Assistance

By: Lee Storrow, Executive Director, North Carolina AIDS Action Network

This year, North Carolina took a big step forward to increasing access to health insurance for individuals on our state’s AIDS Drug Assistance Program (ADAP).

For years, the HIV advocacy community has been concerned about the state’s failure to provide premium assistance for individuals who purchase their own health insurance. The majority of states across the country have such programs in place, which help subsidize the cost of health insurance for ADAP eligible patients so they can receive a broader array of health services instead of just medication. Our state took a small step forward by providing co-payment assistance for medication in 2014, but the governor’s administration claimed they were prohibited from going any further.

We knew that if we were going to gain premium assistance in North Carolina, we needed to start speaking up.

In 2015, we began preparing for a robust campaign for premium assistance for ADAP. We met with leadership at the Department of Health and Human Services that December to share information with them and make sure they understood the importance of this topic to the advocacy community. Because of changing federal guidance, the state stood to lose millions of dollars in pharmaceutical rebates that helped keep the program fully funded, which gave increased urgency to our campaign.

We built a diverse team of stakeholders who could speak up on this issue, including local Health Directors, individuals living with HIV, representatives from the pharmaceutical industry, and health care providers. We started meeting with state legislators who were members of the Health and Human Services Appropriations Committee. Everything was lined up, and although I had some skepticism that we would be successful in 2016, was cautiously optimistic.

Then on March 26th, the General Assembly passed HB2.

HB 2 was passed in response to an ordinance passed by the Charlotte City Council to protect the LGBTQ community from discrimination. Prior to the ordinance’s passage, the Governor and leadership of the General Assembly voiced their opposition to the ordinance and passed HB2 to strip Charlotte’s (and other cities in North Carolina) power to pass nondiscrimination ordinances. HB2 gained national notoriety for also requiring trans individuals to use the bathroom of the gender they were assigned at birth.

HB2 inspired significant media attention and protest, and the bill has continued to dominate statewide and national media. The business community came out strongly against the bill, and national associations and performers cancelled conferences and concerts. All of the noise started to make me nervous about our premium assistance campaign. NC AIDS Action Network supported the Charlotte ordinance; we know that LGBTQ discrimination and HIV stigma are closely linked. Though we know that HIV impacts everyone, it’s no secret that it has a disproportionate impact on the gay and trans community, and I feared that our policy change could get caught up in the tense political environment around LGBTQ rights.

Under these adverse conditions, we stayed true to our original message. Premium assistance was good health policy that would increase access to a wide range of services for low-income individuals and was good economic policy to secure needed funding to keep ADAP solvent. We generated media attention across the state and continued to meet with legislators to discuss the importance of this policy shift.

I still remember where I was when I saw the first copy of the House’s proposed budget.

Rep. Josh Dobson was a co-chair over the Health and Human Services Appropriations Committee in the House, and we had been trying to meet with him for several weeks. We finally got a couple minutes, and I sat down with him ready to make a fast pitch about why premium assistance was vital for our state. We anticipated the proposed budget would be released that week, possibly that day. After I spoke for a couple minutes, he stopped me, pulled out a copy of the draft budget, and pointed to the section that included language authorizing premium assistance for ADAP. “Is this what you’re talking about?”

I quickly realized I didn’t need to explain any more, and thanked him for his support. He explained that several of his colleagues we had already met with spoke well of this proposed change, and he was happy to support it.

From there, everything fell into place. The House budget passed without changes to our provision, and the Senate included it in their proposed budget, as well. The General Assembly passed the final state budget at the end of June, and the Governor signed it on July 14th.

I know for many states this might seem like a very small victory. The vast majority of states in the United States have already implemented premium assistance administratively without having to run a legislative campaign. We didn’t have that path in North Carolina, and we can’t help but feel victorious of the victory we achieved this year. We were lucky to have bipartisan support for this provision and leadership that understood that this was good for public health and good for the state’s economic bottom line. We now move to implementation, and supporting the Department of Health and Human Services in making premium assistance a reality for North Carolina.

From left to right- Allison Rice, Alicia Diggs, and Lee Storrow
From left to right- Allison Rice, Alicia Diggs, and Lee Storrow


Disclaimer: Guest blogs do not necessarily reflect the views of the ADAP Advocacy Association, but rather they provide a neutral platform whereby the author serves to promote open, honest discussion about public health-related issues and updates.

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