California HIV Emergency: Schwarzenegger, Legislature may slash HIV funding

Rex Wockner

June 10th, 2009

[The following is a guest post by journalist Rex Wockner, cross-posted at his web site. This very important story is reprinted here with permission and at his request.]

 Gay and HIV advocates rallied at the state Capitol in Sacramento, Calif., on June 10 against draconian cuts in HIV funding proposed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and under consideration by the Legislature. Wockner News photo by Charlie Peer/Outword Magazine

Gay and HIV advocates rallied at the state Capitol in Sacramento, Calif., on June 10 against draconian cuts in HIV funding proposed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and under consideration by the Legislature. Wockner News photo by Charlie Peer/Outword Magazine

California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has proposed, and the California Legislature is considering, draconian cuts to all types of HIV-related funding in the near-bankrupt state.

In the worst-case scenario, which is still not off the table, slashes to the AIDS Drug Assistance Program could result in thousands of Californians who make less than $41,600 per year losing access to the state-provided drugs that suppress HIV and keep them alive.

In the apparent best-case scenario, not all HIV drugs would be available via ADAP and patients would have to pay part of the cost of the ones they could get. That is problematic because some HIV-positive people have developed resistance to some HIV drugs, and need access to the full arsenal of therapies to stay alive.

Further, the current plan apparently completely eliminates state funding for the tests that determine if a patient is responding to treatment — such tests as CD4 counts, viral-load measurement and drug-resistance monitoring.

These tests are essentially mandatory in HIV treatment. Doctors use them so they can change a nonresponsive patient’s drug combination to another combo that works in that patient — before the patient’s immune system breaks down further and the patient develops a life-threatening opportunistic infection.

The current plan apparently also dramatically slashes funding for education, prevention, counseling and testing programs.

Some 35,000 working- and middle-class Californians who don’t make enough money to pay for their own treatment could be adversely or dangerously affected by the possible cuts to ADAP and elimination of monitoring testing.

Gay and HIV advocates have strongly denounced the budget proposals, and a large rally was held at the state Capitol in Sacramento on June 10.


June 11th, 2009

Unbelievable! Why don’t the California legislators take a pay cut before they start taking away people’s life-saving meds? How about not spending such an indecent amount of money for the comfort of prisoners every year? I don’t think rapists & murderers need an aromatherapy room nearly as much as people with HIV need to live!

The way California spends their money just makes me shake my head. It’s like they let 5 year olds dole out the cash to whatever strikes their fancy and it’s insane!The state wouldn’t be out of money if they used some common sense, but when has government ever done that?

Bill Ware

June 11th, 2009

Let’s not be so fast to criticize the governor and state legislature. Last election, the citizens of California effectively voted to cut $24 billion out of the state budget. Draconian cuts in state programs are the inevitable result.

California needs to have a state Constitutional Convention to return the taxing and spending authority back to the duly elected representatives of the people. Otherwise these injustices are likely to continue.

Mike Airhart

June 11th, 2009

I agree with Bill Ware.

It’s outrageous that California voters refuse to repeal Prop 13 and implement property taxes. While California income taxes are high, property taxes are among the lowest in the nation.

The state has no money, and it makes little sense to demand that the state spend money which does not exist on HIV/AIDS care and prevention.

Prop 13 must be repealed, and property taxes must be raised. Until then, there is simply no money to spend on HIV/AIDS or anything else.


June 11th, 2009

It is the classic American paradox. People want government services, but don’t want to pay taxes. We have run our national government on this basis for decades. The last balanced budget was one or two of the Clinton years, and the one before that was one of Nixon’s budgets.

The people of California need to decide what services they are willing to pay for. We’re looking at MASSIVE cuts this year and probably next. Closing schools, public hospitals, cutting up to 1/4 of a city like Oakland’s police force, etc.

I don’t envy the governor or the state legislators, but they are going to have to balance this budget with enormous numbers of people suffering as a result. And as the above example shows, people will die (for lack of medication, unsafe roads, inadequate police, fire and medical response, etc.)

As a Californian, it will be very painful to see this play out. In the next few years, California may become a very different state.

Gabriel Arana

June 11th, 2009

This is absolutely crazy. I guess it just highlights the problem with tying healthcare services to income. Do poor and middle-class people not deserve life-saving treatment? As a basic premise I think that in a society as wealthy as ours, one has the right to the means of survival. People tout private charity, but are private charities about to step up with a coordinated effort to take care of these people? I think not.

Thanks for the heads up, Rex.

Timothy Kincaid

June 11th, 2009

Bill and Mike,

California is not in dire straits due to a lack of taxation. We are among the highest taxed states in the nation.

We have the highest state wide sales tax, the third highest gas tax, second highest income tax rate, and the tenth highest median property tax.

While I am concerned about a possible reduction in ADAP, I also recognize a long pattern of wasteful spending by my state and when money gets tight the drunken sailors that run the state threaten that if we don’t give them more MORE MORE then they’ll have to throw Grandma and AIDS patients out into the street.


June 11th, 2009

California has the necessary tax monies. For some reason the forces that have power, don’t have the resolve to cut what really needs to be cut from the budget.

Timothy Kincaid

June 11th, 2009

In society as wealthy as ours, one has the right to life, liberty and property.

But one does not have the right to control anyone else of demand of them their life, liberty, or property.

We often forget that “wealth” isn’t a magical thing that self-generates. Wealth is a measure of the work, ingenuity, and risk that someone is willing to invest.

Bill Gates is not accidentally wealthy. He risked poverty in order to become wealthy. And if he fails to hire the right people, make the right business decisions, stay ahead of the trend, and make risky choices, he could lose it all in a very short time.

I believe that in a society we can and do ask that all of us contribute for the shared betterment of the group. We need streetlights and courts and defense and these all require an accumulation of funds from each of us. We even recognize that the collective group is bettered by helping those in the group who are in need.

But no one individual has a right to place any claim on the rest. No one has the right to demand that others work so that he can have food or shelter or health care. Should a society deem it wise to give such to an individual, they do so our of their kindness or out of a recognition that its beneficial to all.

But no one – not AIDS patients, not the poor, not those in need – no one has a right, a claim on the sweat of any one else’s brow.

Mark F.

June 11th, 2009

Well said , Tim.

May I make a comment? What about all of the money some gay people spend on circuit parties, travel, clubs, bars, cruises, IML, bathhouses and various luxuries of all sorts? Can’t we use some of that money to voluntarily take care of our own?

Why do we always need to run to big daddy government?

Mike Airhart

June 11th, 2009

I stand corrected re: property taxes (until I prove otherwise :-D ) … but it still makes no sense to defend HIV/AIDS funding without naming what *should* be cut.

I like Rex Wockner’s reporting and photography very much — he has great integrity. Nevertheless, until specific cuts are named, Rex and others who defend California’s poor risk robbing Peter to save Paul.


June 11th, 2009

Mark, I agree completely, though I’m sure many gays and others already *do* make such contributions. I bet the more generous wealthy folk get pretty tired of being assumed greedy and selfish.

As for this “right to survival,” just when would such a right end and a person’s right to the fruits of their labor begin? When the operations you need cost $100,000 is that too much? How about $1,000,000? And does everyone have an equal right to survival? When the octogenarian has to compete for funds with the toddler, who gets to live? Hey, maybe we can force doctors to work for less money. Of course, that would ultimately make doctors even harder to find given the reduced incentive to work through years of arduous, costly education.

Providing a right to survive that trumps all other freedoms just opens one huge can of worms.

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