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State makes it harder to qualify for AIDS drug program

Updated: September 24, 2012 6:25AM



Beginning this summer, the state will tighten its eligibility requirements for the financially-strapped AIDS Drug Assistance Program.

The program’s current income limit for eligibility is 500 percent of the federal poverty level, or $54,450 for a single individual.

After July 1, only HIV-positive people whose income is at or below 300 percent of the poverty level ($32,670) will be eligible to apply, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health.

The change will not affect people already enrolled in the program, which subsidizes prescription drug costs for 4,100 Illinois residents a month.

But it could limit access to potentially life-saving medication for the estimated 100 or more people each year who would no longer qualify for the program, the AIDS Foundation of Chicago warned.

Many of these people have jobs but are uninsured and can’t afford to pay $18,000 or more a year out-of-pocket for their medication, said John Peller, the foundation’s vice president of policy.

“Without access to medication, we know that people with HIV otherwise come down with opportunistic infections that could have been prevented,” Peller said. “And we know they can’t work and take part in society in ways they otherwise could.”

State health department spokeswoman Melaney Arnold said changing the income limit for new applicants was necessary to “ensure the program will be sustainable in the long term” for those already enrolled.

Like other states, Illinois has been forced to cut costs in its drug assistance program because state and federal funding hasn’t kept pace with growing enrollment fueled by the economic downturn, Peller said.

Last year, an IDPH advisory panel recommended that the state start a waiting list for its program, as 11 other states have done.

Though opposed to the idea then, the AIDS Foundation said a waiting list would be preferable to changing eligibility rules.

“Creating a waiting list at least holds out hope that the program can be restored when the money is found,” Peller said. “A plain straight eligibility cut is the equivalent of sweeping a hundred people’s need for HIV medication under the rug.”



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