‘Nightmare scenario’: State cuts could impact HIV/AIDS patients across region

State News

ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — On December 1, World AIDS Day, Trillium Health says Gov. Andrew Cuomo made an announcement they say took them by complete surprise: Cuts to funding that will have a ripple impact on HIV and AIDS patients in the community.

Trillium says they have been fighting back against the governor’s cuts to the federal 340-B prescription discount program. If these cuts go ahead, it could mean Trillium scales back in a big way on many of the treatment programs here in the city, some to the city’s most vulnerable. 

The President and CEO of Trillium Health, Andrea DeMeo, says they rely on being able to buy HIV treatment and other prescription medicine at a discount, so they can then give healthcare services at little to no cost to the community.

Part of what they provide? “Food security, housing security, transportation,” says DeMeo adding, “It will have a devastating financial impact to us and require us to cut services.”

DeMeo says this move isn’t necessarily related to the COVID-19 financial budget hole. This was done by the governor in April, she says buried in the budget. DeMeo says the governor is looking for Medicaid savings. This could mean they will lose $5 million, on top of a 20% withholding by Albany on state grants. 

“Which essentially means we will no longer be able to buy our Medicaid prescriptions at a discount and therefore have a devastating financial impact,” says DeMeo.

“It would be a nightmare scenario to see a cut on HIV medication,” says Brian Bartlett who works at Trillium, and has been HIV positive since 2010 (although it’s now undetectable in him thanks to his daily regimen of medication). He says the governor allowing this cut during the COVID-19 pandemic is coming at the worst possible time. 

“You’re going to cut funding for something we’ve been dealing with since the 1980’s? And then put a cap on it, and say that it’s okay during all this? Like…no,” says Bartlett.

DeMeo reminds the public that while this doesn’t mean medicine will necessarily be cut, it does mean a step backward in all the work they’re doing to roll back the HIV-AIDS epidemic. 

“It can be terribly detrimental and possibly an issue of mortality, and we’re very concerned about communities at risk,” says DeMeo adding the hardest-hit group will be minority populations in the region.

DeMeo says the next step is to have a conversation with Albany and let them know the impact this cut will have in the community. The changes to funding are due to go into effect on April 1, 2021.

FULL STATEMENT FROM TRILLIUM HEALTH:

On World AIDS Day, Governor Andrew Cuomo released an announcement that came as a complete surprise to Trillium Health and other HIV/AIDS clinics. In the announcement, the Governor proposed $100 Million in Medicaid Redesign Savings in an effort to appease HIV providers – meanwhile, it’s only a fraction of the dollars the Department of Health is planning to take away from HIV/AIDS clinics if changes to the 340B prescription drug discount program go into effect on April 1, 2021. Trillium Health has been fighting back against Governor Cuomo’s cuts to the federal 340B prescription drug discount program in the middle of a global pandemic. If the cuts are allowed to go into effect, the agency will lose more than $5 million, on top of a 20% withholding by the governor on state grants. This will force Trillium Health to reduce or eliminate many of its basic services in Rochester – including food, housing, and transportation for low-income families, communities of color, and people living with HIV . “Trillium Health depends on the ability to buy prescription medicine at a reduced price in order to provide comprehensive healthcare services at little-to-no cost to its patients through the federal 340B drug discount program,” said Andrea DeMeo, President and CEO of Trillium Health. “This is the absolute worst time for funding cuts. We’re simultaneously fighting two epidemics (HIV and the opioid epidemic) and a global pandemic (COVID-19) at the same time. It will exacerbate existing health inequities and lead to poorer health outcomes in our community. That’s why we’re calling on the governor to reverse these devastating cuts.” The 340B program was established by the federal government in 1992 to help safety net providers serve people who would otherwise fall through the cracks. Last year, the New York State budget contained included a little-noticed provision that would carve the pharmacy benefit out of Medicaid managed care and replace it with a fee-for-service model as a “cost savings” measure. In addition, funding is already being withheld from many AIDS Institute grants, which allow for the prevention and treatment of HIV. Statewide, approximately 20% of funding is being withheld. The change in the prescription drug benefit creates a double-edged sword. “For Ryan White clinics like Trillium Health, this change would result in a significant step backward in the fight to end the HIV/AIDS epidemic,” said Andrea DeMeo, President and CEO of Trillium Health. “The reduction of 340 savings would threaten comprehensive services for our patients living with HIV, and prevention efforts to stop the spread of the virus. We’re asking the governor to reverse his decision, so we may continue to provide the highest quality of care to the most vulnerable members of our community. In these challenging fiscal times, there are numerous ways to raise revenue and cut spending in Albany that are NOT on the backs of safety net providers. Along with the Legislature, I would implore the Governor to consider other options instead.”

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