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

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 yesterday by a vote of 22-12.

“In good economic times and bad, New Jersey lawmakers have a sacred responsibility to stand up for programs that make a difference in people’s lives,” said Senator Vitale, D-Middlesex. “Without prescription drug assistance from the State, many people living with HIV and AIDS would be unable to afford the expensive drug cocktails needed to keep their disease in check. This funding is too important to become a victim of chronic State budget shortfalls, particularly when the funding mechanism we’ve identified through this bill is budget neutral.”

“The ADDP program is a lifeline for people in New Jersey living with HIV and AIDS, but it also plays an important role in controlling the spread of the disease,” said Senator Gordon, D-Bergen. “People who are receiving the appropriate treatment regimen are less likely to spread the disease to others. We have to maintain support for public outreach and education programs to combat the AIDS epidemic, but a crucial part of that is ensuring that people can afford their medications to halt the disease in its tracks.”

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.

“New Jersey has one of the highest cost of living figures in the nation, and there’s no way a person making $55,000 can balance living expenses with the cost of drugs needed to treat the AIDS virus,” said Senator Gordon. “This is about promoting humane, compassionate public policy that doesn’t put people in jeopardy at a time when everyone is struggling to make ends meet.”

“This bill takes advantage of private drug rebates and enhanced assistance through the federal health care reform law to preserve a safety net for people living with AIDS and HIV,” said Senator Vitale. “For people enrolled in ADDP, the program literally means the difference between life and death, and for the 960 people who would have been disenrolled from the program due to the Governor’s original budget cuts, this bill represents an 11th hour reprieve. While I recognize that tough economic times equal tough budget decisions, there are some programs which should be out of reach of the budget scalpel, and I’m proud to do my part in preserving the ADDP program moving forward.”

The bill now heads to the Assembly for consideration.

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