Lowry ensures access to basic drugs for HIV/AIDS patients

OLYMPIA -- More people living with HIV/AIDS will have access to basic preventive medication under a program restored today by Gov. Mike Lowry. The governor said that effective immediately, the state will again accept new enrollment into the HIV/AIDS prescription drug program (APDP).

The program, which pays for medications for low-income persons living with HIV, was closed to new enrollees July 17 due to an unprecedented increase in enrollment and the high cost of some newly approved medications.

"We were faced with a tragic situation two weeks ago when this program was closed to new enrollees," Lowry said. "We still have a huge task ahead of us in finding a long-term funding solution, but this is a first step."

While new enrollees will not have access to costly new medications called "protease inhibitors" or other retroviral medications, they will be eligible for 54 commonly used drugs such as Septra and Bactrim and other preventive medication.

"This is a short-term, stop-gap solution to a public health crisis," Lowry said. "We are still working on a long-term funding solution that will ensure that those persons enrolled in APDP have access to a full range of medications."

Along those lines, Lowry said the state will pursue not only a supplemental budget request in January, but federal assistance and private philanthropic contributions. In addition, Lowry said he will seek the cooperation of pharmaceutical companies and health insurers in addressing the crisis.

"We've just begun this effort," Lowry said. "We will aggressively pursue more funding not only for the remainder of this fiscal year, but for the 1997-99 Biennium as well. It is my full intention to ensure access to all appropriate medication for low-income people living with HIV, including protease inhibitors."

Lowry will testify at the Senate Health and Long-Term Care committee Friday (Aug. 2) at 1:30 p.m. and also plans to meet with legislative leaders.

The state Department of Health also has scheduled two public meetings: in Spokane, Aug. 6 from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. at Sacred Heart Medical Center; and in Seattle, Aug. 7 from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. at Seattle Central Community College. The governor will attend the hearings.

The Department of Health closed enrollment in the APDP program July 17 after enrollment increased from 475 in January to 835 this month, and program costs climbed from an average of $53,000 per month in 1995 to $143,803 last month. While the department anticipated that program costs would increase, the magnitude of the increase in enrollment and claims costs far exceeded projections.

Clients already enrolled in APDP were allowed to continue receiving support for their prescription expenses. However, access to payment for protease inhibitors was limited to clients who had already begun using them.

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For more information, contact the Governor's Communications Office, (360)753-6790.