One of the great victories from the 82nd Texas Legislature was the preservation of funding for the Texas HIV Medication Assistance Program. Early drafts of the state budget cut funding for the program, or eliminated it all together. Through concerted lobbying efforts the Texas HIV/AIDS coalition, in co-operation with other groups and activists around the state, convinced lawmakers to preserve funding at current levels, and to create a method by which Department of State Health Services Commissioner, Dr. David Lakey, may request additional funds if he feels that they are necessary.
Whether or not Lakey will requests those funds is still in question. Lakey has a history of dismissing the importance of public input into how the medication assistance program is run. Earlier this year he eliminated the Texas HIV Medication Advisory Committee, a body designed to provide input from service providers and clients of the program. Lakey's actions prompted the Texas legislature to remove the commissioners ability to disband the committee by making it permanent in the State's Health Code. Lakey also routinely does not attend meetings of the Advisory Committee, one of the few open forums for the public to provide input on how the program is operated.
HIV rates in Texas are on the rise. According to the Texas Department of State Health Services there were 3 ,126 new cases of HIV diagnosed in Texas between Jan and September of 2010 alone. Januari Leo of the Texas HIV/AIDS coalition says that Commissioner Lakey will need to request an additional 19.2 million dollars in funds to keep pace with the increased infection rates:
"By not asking for the $19.2 million that is necessary to ensure that eligibility requirements will not be altered for those coming into the program, administrators are essentially setting up death panels," says Leo. "What constitutes sick enough to have access to life-saving medications? Commissioner Lakey has the lives of thousands of HIV positive Texans in his hands, we hope he will choose to do the right thing and ask for the money."
The Texas HIV/AIDS coalition is asking Texans to contact Commissioner Lakey to encourage him to request the additional funds. A simple on-line form is available HERE.