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Dr. Coburn Disappointed Senate Rejects Baby AIDS Funding

Press Release

Location: Washington, DC

Dr. Coburn Disappointed Senate Rejects Baby AIDS Funding

U.S. Senator Tom Coburn, M.D. (R-OK), a practicing physician, released the following statement today concerning the Senate's approval of the conference report of the fiscal year 2008 Labor/HHS/Education appropriations bill. The bill essentially eliminated funding to provide care for and prevention of baby AIDS, while continuing to provide federal AIDS funding for deceased AIDS patients.

"It is both fiscally and morally irresponsible to allow children to become needlessly infected with an incurable and costly disease like HIV that is preventable," Dr. Coburn said. "This bill does not prioritize children affected by HIV/AIDS, yet it provides millions of dollars in federal funds for dead AIDS patients in San Francisco."

The Baby AIDS program was created last year as part of the Ryan White CARE Act reauthorization. It is intended to provide resources to states to encourage and support efforts to prevent the transmission of HIV from a pregnant woman to her child.

The restrictions and limitations included in the conference agreement essentially kill the Baby AIDS program. For example, states would be required to become eligible for the funding before the end of this calendar year even though it would be practically impossible for most states to approve the required legislation in such a short time frame. With such a narrow window to qualify for eligibility, only one state — Illinois — may be eligible for funding. Additionally, the program currently allows states to receive up to $10 million for baby AIDS treatment and prevention. The conference agreement cuts this amount, limiting grants to no more than $1 million per state. The rapid HIV test costs $10 to administer and the treatment to prevent HIV infection in a baby delivered by a mother with HIV costs $75. In comparison, it costs at least $10,000 per year to treat a newborn with HIV.

The House bill inserted a provision, ironically referred to as a "hold harmless" in the bill, which would essentially take federal AIDS money from nearly every other eligible metropolitan area (EMA) in the country and steer it back to San Francisco.

"As a result of these changes, health care and treatment would be taken away from low-income African American women and children that is needed to keep them alive to enrich urban areas that are represented by politically influential politicians," Dr. Coburn said.

A Government Accountability Office (GAO) report released in October titled, "Ryan White Care Act: Impact of Legislative Funding Proposal on Urban Areas," found that money for San Francisco would essentially be for dead AIDS patients who passed away more than 12 years ago.

The Senate overwhelmingly passed an amendment last month that rejected this effort to divert federal AIDS funds to deceased patients in San Francisco. The conference agreement however re-instates the House language that awards AIDS dollars based upon political influence rather than need.

"Congress has spent much of the year debating how to best provide health care to children. It is shameful for Congress to kill a program intended to prevent baby AIDS and rob needy patients with HIV who just happen to live in areas of the country that are poor and not as politically influential," Dr. Coburn said.

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