The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to uphold President Barack Obama’s signature law, the Affordable Care Act, this week came as a lifeline to the most needy in Oakland’s ongoing efforts to provide medical support to AIDS patients. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, a branch of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, approved California’s request to fast-track its transition to Affordable Care Act benefits on June 28, paving the way for the implementation of programs that give high priority to reducing the prevalence of HIV and providing affordable care to AIDS patients.
The agency’s approval, which was announced by Congresswoman Barbara Lee, (D) Oakland, at the California Prostitutes Education Project (Cal- Pep) in Oakland on Monday, will allow thousands of low income AIDS patients in Alameda County to benefit early from the provisions of the Affordable Care Act through access to California’s publicly funded MediCal program.
As a result of the decision, Californians infected with HIV will no longer have to wait for an AIDS diagnosis to be eligible for antiretroviral drugs under MediCal, and the state’s agencies will have more funding available to conduct HIV testing campaigns.
For other states, without the approval of similar provisions by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, such benefits under the Affordable Care Act would only become available when the law comes into effect in 2014.
“This policy shift will greatly improve how we respond to AIDS in California,” Lee said, “and it will affect those on the frontlines in the battle against HIV and AIDS. Those living with the HIV virus in California will have the first opportunity to begin transitioning to long term, stable and affordable treatment programs under the Affordable Care Act.”
Lee said the reforms facilitated by the Affordable Care Act were long overdue and would greatly improve California’s health delivery system, especially for low income groups, racial and ethnic minorities and subpopulations most afflicted by the prevalence of HIV and AIDS. “California will be the first in the nation to transition to ACA policy,” Lee said. “I am proud to say that California will serve as the nation’s model for improving care for HIV patients.”
California will provide care to low-income AIDS patients under its Bridge to Health Care Reform program, under which the state’s Department of Health Care Services plans to increase funding to cover uninsured individuals.
Lee said despite progress in getting early access to treatment, there is still a need to focus on preventative measures and get people to know their HIV status.
In 1995, the California State Legislature declared Alameda County to be in a state of emergency due to the high prevalence of HIV among African Americans. Since then, organizations like Cal-Pep have been working to reduce the prevalence of HIV, eradicate risk factors and encourage people to get tested.
Last week, Cal-Pep, in collaboration with National Coalition of 100 Black Women, provided free HIV testing workshops in Oakland, attracting at least 50 people on the first day and 47 people on the second day, 91 percent of whom were African American. According to Cal-Pep program coodinator Jamila Shipp, more than 70 percent of people who got tested last week were African American women.
“We encourage people to get tested because at least one in five people do know their HIV status, and men and women are putting themselves at risk,” Shipp said.