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New Funds Could Shorten AIDS Drug Waiting Lists

The Obama administration announced nearly $80 million in grants to increase access to HIV/AIDS care across the United States last week – but will it be enough to eliminate waiting lists for the AIDS Drug Assistance Program?

Advocates aren’t sure. The program, known as ADAP, provides a safety net for people with HIV who cannot afford the drugs they need to fight the virus.

For the past few years, ADAP demand has outpaced funding. Nationwide, 1,800 people are now on a waitlist, with Georgia and Virginia accounting for more than half of those cases.

Murray Penner of the National Alliance of State and Territorial AIDS Directors says it is hard to tell if the new funding will be enough to handle states’ waitlists. He thinks they will disappear, but only for a year or two.

“It’s very difficult to predict these things because there are so many variables that go into the serving of individuals that need medications,” Penner said.

Atlanta resident James Lark is one of those individuals. Now 47 years old, Lark was 30 when he learned he was HIV-positive. He has gone in and out of phases where he takes care of his condition.

“I’ve been positive now for over 17 years. But when I first found out I just went with it and haven’t done anything about it,” Lark says. “My brother had passed away with AIDS. I was dead within and just kept living my life and wasn’t taking my life seriously.”

Three years ago, Lark was homeless when he decided it was time to get a handle on his health. He qualified for Georgia’s AIDS Drug Assistance Program, which paid for his medications—nearly $20,000 a year.

Lark has qualified for other government programs and doesn’t have to depend on ADAP. But he says his Social Security benefits will end in September. “And that means I’ll have to go back on ADAP. And I’ll be on the waiting list.”

Shifts in state and federal funding, drug costs and rebates, and how many people seek treatment are constantly changing — and all of those affect how many people are on the wait list.

For example, Georgia recently adopted a policy of treating people as soon as they are diagnosed. Research indicates that means a longer, better life for many with HIV. But it also adds a cost burden to a state that can’t support current demand.

The pharmacy at Atlanta’s Ponce De Leon Center provides drugs and other services for more than 5,200 HIV/AIDS patients. But with the potential for hundreds of new patients, the Center’s Jacque Muther isn’t sure how they’ll accommodate them.

“It’s going to be a big challenge,” Muther says. “I don’t know how they’re going to meet it. This new money is not going to resolve that.”

This story is part of a collaboration with NPR, WABE, and Kaiser Health News.