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Vitale-Gordon Bill To Restore Income Eligibility Guidelines For State Aids Drug Distribution Program Advances

Measure Would Reverse Governor Christie’s Initial Cut to Program

TRENTON – A bill sponsored by Senators Joseph Vitale and Bob Gordon which would formally restore the income eligibility guidelines for New Jersey’s AIDS Drug Distribution Program (ADDP) to the levels they were at before Governor Christie scaled back the program in the FY 2011 State Budget was approved by the Senate Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens Committee today by a vote of 6-3, with one abstention.

“While I recognize that New Jersey is facing a tough budget year, we have to stand up for our priorities,” said Senator Vitale, D-Middlesex. “Making sure that people living with AIDS have access to affordable medications to help them cope with the effects of the disease should be a priority, particularly when we can capitalize on private drug rebates and enhanced federal assistance from the Obama administration to pay for the program. This bill ensures that folks who depend on ADDP will continue to receive our support, despite the State’s bleak budget outlook.”

“Not only is the ADDP program necessary for helping people afford the costly medical bills associated with treatment for AIDS, but it also plays an important part in controlling the spread of the disease,” said Senator Gordon, D-Bergen. “There’s no question that when a person with AIDS is undergoing the proper treatment regiment, they’re less likely to spread the disease to others. As we seek to reduce the AIDS epidemic in New Jersey through education and outreach, we cannot turn our backs on people suffering from the disease today.”

The bill, S-2214, would restore the ADDP program income eligibility levels to 500% of the federal poverty level, or $54,150 a year in income – the standard it was set at in FY 2010. Governor Christie’s FY 2011 Budget reduced the program to 300% of the federal poverty level, or $32,490 a year in income. Governor Christie’s cuts in the FY 2011 Budget would have cut 960 people with AIDS from the program.

According to the lawmakers, drug therapy alone can cost an HIV-positive or AIDS-positive person $25,000 a year in health care costs, based on a 2006 academic study. That figure doesn’t account for regular blood testing, physician visits or treatment of the side effects caused by these drugs, or the cost of food and shelter, among other living expenses. For individuals earning less than the State’s median income, the high cost of drug therapy can often lead them to rationing medications or cutting out other necessary living expenses.

“At less than $55,000 a year in income, there’s simply no way a person can afford the proper drug regiment to treat AIDS without some measure of public assistance,” said Senator Gordon. “This comes down to humane public policy and investing in the medications needed to help control the spread of AIDS and HIV. At the end of the day, we have a responsibility to the people enrolled in the ADDP program, and through this bill, we’re living up to that responsibility.”

“At the end of the day, this was about finding a budget-neutral funding solution to a program that means the difference between life or death for people battling AIDS and HIV,” said Senator Vitale. “Ultimately, this bill represents an 11th-hour reprieve for the 960 people enrolled in ADDP who would have had no alternative but to forego medical care had they been cut from the program.”

The bill now heads to the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee, before going to the full Senate for consideration.

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