Lowry orders full reopening of HIV/AIDS drug program; plans meeting with Shalala

OLYMPIA -- Following last week's public testimony and meetings with health officials and legislators, Gov. Mike Lowry said today he will fully restore the state Department of Health's HIV/AIDS prescription drug program (APDP) while taking several additional steps toward long-term funding solutions.

The governor said he will meet with Health and Human Services Secretary Donna Shalala in early September and is in the process of setting up meetings with other governors, pharmaceutical companies, insurance companies and the state insurance commissioner to discuss cost issues. In addition, Lowry will send a letter to President Clinton asking for increased funding for AIDS drug assistance.

The APDP 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.

Two weeks ago, Lowry partially reopened the program by providing emergency funding to cover the costs of standard medication for HIV patients. Meanwhile, he said the state was committed to ensuring that everyone eligible for the APDP program also have access to powerful protease inhibitors and other more expensive anti-HIV medications, and promised to ask health officials to estimate what it would cost to fully reopen the program.

Lowry said recent public hearings in Seattle and Spokane and meetings with legislators and staff reinforced his belief that full restoration of the APDP program at an average cost of $1,310 per patient, per month will save lives and should be a funding priority for the state Department of Health.

"The stories I heard last week were persuasive and dramatic," Lowry said. "People living with HIV and AIDS said they were feeling better than they had in months, sometimes years, because of the medications they received through the APDP program. Some said they were now able to plan their futures, rather than their funerals. To a person, their optimism put a very positive face on what can only be a very challenging situation."

Lowry said his decision to fully reopen the program within the state Department of Health is a short-term, stop-gap solution that will enable the APDP program to again accept applications, but he emphasized that adding more people to the program also will reinforce the need for long-term funding solutions.

"The cruelest scenario," Lowry said, "would be adding people to the program and giving them hope and helping them feel healthy again, and then having to tell them that we can't afford to keep them alive anymore because the state has run out of money. That's why we need long-term answers that involve everyone; not just state government, but the federal government, pharmaceutical companies, insurance companies, and the private sector."

The governor said he will also pursue private philanthropic contributions, but emphasized that working closely with pharmaceutical companies and health insurers to address the crisis is a high priority and a cornerstone for any long-term funding solution.

"I am encouraged," Lowry said, "by what some business representatives are telling me, and by their interest in working with the state. Now, it is time for all of us to take that important next step together and find real, lasting solutions."

Finally, the governor said the state will submit a supplemental budget request in January. According to Lowry, the $5 million APDP cost could easily be funded through more than $40 million in savings captured in the state budget over the past year. The savings is the result of a number of state agencies spending less than anticipated during FY 96, and is significant enough that the governor said the APDP program could be funded within the currently authorized $17.6 billion 1995-97 general fund budget.

The state Department of Health closed enrollment in the APDP program July 17 after enrollment increased from 475 in January to 835 in July. Program costs climbed from an average of $53,000 per month in 1995 to $143,803 in July. While the department anticipated that program costs would increase, the magnitude of the increase in enrollment and claims costs far exceeded projections. The program currently has a $3.4 million projected budget shortfall that will grow to $5 million by next year.

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