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Vitale-Gordon Bill To Restore Income Eligibility Guidelines For State AIDS Drug Distribution Program Approved

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 Budget and Appropriations Committee today by a vote of 8-5.

“Even during difficult economic times, New Jersey lawmakers still have a responsibility to stand up for what’s important in the State Budget,” said Senator Vitale, D-Middlesex. “Helping people with HIV and AIDS afford the expensive drugs needed to keep their symptoms at bay should be one of our State’s priorities, in good budget times and in bad. At a time when State residents are struggling to make ends meet, we cannot turn our backs on those folks who would have nowhere else to turn.”

“Not only does ADDP funding play an important role in the lives of people living with HIV and AIDS, but it plays an equally important role in controlling the spread of the disease,” said Senator Gordon, D-Bergen. “When people are receiving appropriate treatment for AIDS or HIV, they’re less likely to spread the disease to others. We have to maintain our State’s commitment to end the AIDS epidemic through public outreach and education, and ensuring that people can afford their medications goes part and parcel with those efforts.”

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.

“With New Jersey’s notoriously high cost of living, there’s simply no way that someone making $55,000 a year can afford to make ends meet and pay for the costly drug cocktails used to treat the AIDS virus,” said Senator Gordon. “This bill is about living up to our State’s responsibilities to people enrolled in ADDP, and about pushing humane, compassionate public policies that don’t put people at risk in their time of greatest need.”

“This bill capitalizes on private drug rebates and federal funding to restore drug benefits for 960 people who would have otherwise had nowhere else to turn,” said Senator Vitale. “For the people who depend on ADDP, the program literally means the difference between life and death. Thankfully, we were able to identify a budget-neutral funding source to provide an 11th hour reprieve for folks who would have been disenrolled from this life-saving program under the original budget language.”

The bill now heads to the full Senate for consideration.

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