The Deadly Gap Between Words and Deed in the White House’s Record on AIDS

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STATEMENT: The President’s World AIDS Day Rhetoric

The Deadly Gap Between Words and Deed in the White House’s Record on AIDS

President Bush marked World AIDS Day yesterday with a moving and remarkable speech. “At the start of this century,” the President offered, “AIDS causes suffering from remote villages of Africa to the heart of America’s big cities. This danger is multiplied by indifference and complacency. This danger will be overcome by compassion, honesty, and decisive action.”

Unfortunately, those words articulate a clarity of vision and purpose that we are sorely lacking in Washington, D.C., today.

In the speech, President Bush ticked off his administration’s domestic achievements in fighting AIDS. He described “funding that brings life-saving drugs and treatment to hundreds of thousands of low-income Americans” and has turned AIDS into “a long-term illness like heart disease or diabetes.”

Yet, Congress is right now finalizing a budget – shoved through by this White House – that will transfer the costs of our state-run public health insurance programs onto the desperately poor families those programs were intended to help.

The Medicaid budget recently passed by the House would cut tens of millions of dollars out of the program by removing federal regulations that limit how much states may force beneficiaries to put up in co-pays and premiums, among other “savings” taken out of consumers’ pockets. Worse, analysts predict that the savings will come not from the actual co- pays but by discouraging people in the program from actually seeking care.

Medicaid is the nation’s largest payer for AIDS treatment.

Meanwhile, the AIDS Drug Assistance Program, which funds anti-HIV drugs for uninsured people with HIV/AIDS, continues to teeter on the brink of collapse – the victim of malign neglect on behalf of federal purse-holders. As of September 2005, 2,187 Americans were on waiting lists to get medication through ADAP. A little over 1,300 of those people were getting medication through an emergency funding program that will expire in March. Why? Because year after year Congress and the White House have worked together to drastically underfund the ADAP program.

Meanwhile, our community is being disproportionately killed by AIDS — much like we are by the President’s examples of heart disease and diabetes. African Americans – who rely far more heavily on public insurance programs for AIDS care — remain seven times more likely to die from an HIV infection once they get it than whites.

The President also rightly reminded us all that HIV/AIDS is “a special concern in the gay community, which has effectively fought this disease for decades through education and prevention.” He added that AIDS is “increasingly found among women and minorities.” That’s one reason why it is unfortunate that, under this administration, funding for abstinence-only sex education in our schools has more than doubled. Abstinence-only education teaches that the only way to protect yourself from HIV and other STDs is to not have sex outside of heterosexual marriage. Such “educational” programs typically bar instructors from discussing how to use condoms at all.

The Institute applauds President Bush’s moving words on World AIDS Day – for an administration in which the vice president acknowledged just over a year ago that he hadn’t realized the intensity of the epidemic among African American women, that is certainly progress. We now urge the administration and Congress to start putting action behind their words on the other 364 days of the year.

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