Today, Congresswoman Maxine Waters (D-CA) was honored at a reception hosted by the Act Against AIDS Leadership Initiative (AAALI), for her advocacy in support of HIV/AIDS prevention, testing, and treatment. AAALI is a partnership among several of the nation's leading civil rights and social justice organizations. The reception was entitled, "Honoring Black Leadership in the Fight Against HIV/AIDS." The Congresswoman made the following statement at the reception:
"I am delighted to join you today. I deeply appreciate being honored by the Act Against AIDS Leadership Initiative, and I congratulate all of the civil rights and social justice organizations that are involved in this initiative.
"Federal policies and programs have vastly improved our ability to prevent, diagnosis and treat HIV/AIDS since the epidemic began 31 years ago. Research supported by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) has allowed people living with HIV/AIDS to live longer and more productive lives. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) promotes awareness and testing to reduce the spread of HIV and identify those who are infected. Ryan White and the AIDS Drug Assistance Program (ADAP) have expanded access to treatment for people living with HIV/AIDS who would otherwise not be able to afford it. The National HIV/AIDS Strategy provides a roadmap to coordinate efforts among federal agencies to reduce HIV infections, increase access to care and treatment, and reduce HIV-related health disparities.
"But we know we must keep moving forward. That is why I am working to expand congressional support for forward-looking HIV/AIDS policies.
I established the Minority AIDS Initiative in 1998 when I was chair of the Congressional Black Caucus. And every year, I circulate letters in support of funding for the initiative. The most recent letter was signed by 59 Members of Congress. Because of our efforts, the Minority AIDS Initiative received $416 million in fiscal year 2012, the same amount as in fiscal year 2011 and more than any previous year. That was despite the prevailing atmosphere of fiscal austerity.
I reintroduced the Stop AIDS in Prison Act, a bill to require the Federal Bureau of Prisons to develop a comprehensive policy to provide HIV testing, treatment and prevention for inmates in Federal prisons. This bill has 36 cosponsors.
I reintroduced the Routine HIV Screening Coverage Act, a bill to require health insurance plans to cover routine HIV tests as preventive health screenings without imposing co-payments or deductibles. This bill has 40 cosponsors.
"The passage of the Affordable Care Act, often called "Obamacare," has begun the process of reforming our nation's health system so that all Americans will have access to the health care they need. Because of the Affordable Care Act, insurance companies cannot drop you if you test positive for HIV. They cannot place lifetime limits on your coverage and, beginning in 2014, they will not be able to deny you coverage because of a pre-existing condition like AIDS. The Affordable Care Act also expands Medicaid to cover all low-income Americans, including many people living with HIV/AIDS who currently lack coverage.
"Unfortunately, the progress we have made is in grave danger of being reversed. Under the leadership of the Republican Vice-Presidential Candidate, Congressman Paul Ryan, the Republicans in the House of Representatives have proposed drastic cuts in funding for critical health programs like Ryan White, ADAP, NIH research, and CDC prevention efforts.
"The Ryan budget, which was passed in the House of Representatives in March, cuts all non-defense discretionary spending 8.5% below the fiscal year 2012 level. A cut of this magnitude would devastate HIV/AIDS research, prevention and treatment. The Ryan budget also cuts Medicaid by more than $800 billion over the next ten years and turns the program into a block grant for states. That would leave millions of low-income Americans who depend on Medicaid without access to basic health care.
"The Republicans have been trying to undermine the Affordable Care Act ever since it was signed into law. They have voted over 30 times in the House of Representatives to repeal the Affordable Care Act. They tried unsuccessfully to have the entire law declared unconstitutional, and they are trying to prevent the law's implementation by defunding it. This would leave countless Americans with pre-existing conditions like AIDS unable to obtain health insurance. Moreover, following the decision of the Supreme Court to make Medicaid expansion optional, several Republican governors have announced their states would rather leave low-income Americans without access to health care than participate in Medicaid expansion.
"We need to tell the Republicans that the Ryan budget is simply unacceptable. And we need to tell everyone in Congress not to balance the budget on the backs of people living with HIV/AIDS.
"We must we must rededicate ourselves to the challenges ahead. We must confront Members of Congress and tell them to support HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment because no one should have to die of this preventable and treatable disease! We must demand Medicaid expansion in every state so that all low-income Americans have access to health care. We must demand full implementation of the Affordable Care Act so that no one will ever be denied health insurance because of a positive test for HIV. We must demand full funding of domestic and international HIV/AIDS research, prevention, care, and treatment! And we must never give up until we completely eradicate this disease!"