Governor Jerry Brown and state officials are still in the midst of approving a state budget for 2011-2012. After attempting to approve an unbalanced budget that resulted in State Controller John Chiang withholding pay from lawmakers, the situation does not seem to be improving. California is facing a $10-billion dollar deficit and several budget proposals have included deep cuts to health programs for the sick, poor, and disabled.
These include a proposal to instill a co-payment for people receiving HIV medications – many of whom are already low-income. In fact, 86% of Desert AIDS Project clients from 2010 live at or below 200% of the Federal Poverty Level – about $21,780 annual income. Considering that HIV medications and anti-retroviral drugs cost over $25,000 per year, it becomes clear why increasing burden of costs onto people living with HIV or AIDS poses a serious risk to their health and wellness.
Furthermore, proposed cuts to Medi-Cal are looking extensive. This is worrisome because Medi-Cal provides health care to many low-income people living with HIV. Additional co-payments for doctors’ visits could add up, forcing some HIV-positive individuals to reprioritize their healthcare.
Unfortunately, balancing the budget on the backs of the state’s most vulnerable populations has almost become a routine practice in California. In 2009, Desert AIDS Project lost half a million dollars in state funding for HIV education and prevention services, forcing us to completely shut down that department. Since then, we haven’t received any increases in funding to our department, making it impossibly difficult to effectively lower new HIV infection rates in our desert community.
Desert AIDS Project waits anxiously for a new state budget to be passed soon, but until then, we still continue to offer free and confidential HIV testing, provide quality medical and dental care, and support those who need nutrition or housing assistance, in addition to 12 other programs and services we offer.