Dr. Coburn Applauds Passage of Ryan White CARE Act
U.S. Senator Tom Coburn, M.D. (R-OK) today applauded the passage of legislation that will update and renew the Ryan White CARE Act for three more years. The CARE Act is the largest HIV/AIDS-specific federal program, funded at more than $2 billion and reaching more than 500,000 individuals each year. The program's reauthorization expired over a year ago but has been blocked by members of the Senate who objected to the bill's effort to ensure more equitable distribution of federal funding.
"Since this bill was last called up in the Senate in October, three patients on waiting lists for AIDS drugs passed away," noted Dr. Coburn, a practicing physician who has treated patients with HIV/AIDS. "The compromise bill approved by the Senate today will extend the special funding advantage that has benefited urban areas, but will ensure that federal funding is more fairly targeted so that all those living with HIV/AIDS will have access to life saving treatment."
"It is unfair that San Francisco receives funding for AIDS patients who passed away decades ago while there have been reports of patients on waiting lists dying in South Carolina, Kentucky and West Virginia due to the fact that patients in those areas living with the disease are not recognized for purposes of federal funding," Dr. Coburn said. "Federal funding formulas will now finally recognize everyone living with HIV rather than just those diagnosed with AIDS, the end stage of HIV infection. This focus on AIDS has, in effect, discriminated against patients in rural areas, minority communities, women and other emerging communities affected by this disease."
"Waiting until someone has progressed to AIDS is far too late to maximize the potential of treatment and has created health care funding disparities with real consequences, most notably waiting lists for AIDS drugs. Waiting lists containing hundreds of patients in states with emerging epidemics, in fact, have become commonplace and an estimated 42 to 59 percent of Americans living with HIV/AIDS are not in regular HIV care. It is unacceptable that anyone in America infected with HIV can not access medical care and treatment when the federal government is spending $21.1 billion on this disease every year," said Dr. Coburn.
In addition to more equitable funding, Dr. Coburn praised the bill's focus on early intervention and primary medical care and treatment.
"This bill directs the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to provide additional resources to areas that have prioritized efforts to eliminate baby AIDS and promote routine HIV testing. Early intervention can improve the health and prolong the lives of patients and also prevent the spread of the disease. Without the benefit of being diagnosed, patients are denied treatment, yet more than 300,000 Americans with HIV do not know that they are infected," noted Dr. Coburn.
"This bill makes primary medical care and access to treatment the priority of CARE Act programs," Dr. Coburn added. "We now have the ability to make HIV infection a manageable disease for many. AIDS is no longer a certain death sentence as long as patients have access to the miraculous drug that are now available but were only dreamed of when this law was first passed in 1990. The bill approved today recognizes and reflects these achievements."
"I would like to also recognize the efforts of Senators Enzi and Kennedy and their staffs for the months of negotiations that made this bill possible despite the obstacles as well as their personal commitment to caring for those affected by HIV/AIDS, but most importantly I would like to thank President Bush who has made combating HIV/AIDS, both domestically and globally, a priority of his Administration over the past six years," said Dr. Coburn.