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AIDS Waiting Lists Grow Amid Economic Woes

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AIDS Waiting Lists Grow Amid Economic Woes

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AIDS Waiting Lists Grow Amid Economic Woes

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ROBERT SIEGEL, Host:

And as NPR's Brenda Wilson reports, federal and state budgets are not keeping up with their needs.

BRENDA WILSON: Tom Liberti, the director of the state's AIDS program, saw the line forming long before it got to this point.

TOM LIBERTI: Over the last several months in the latter parts of this recession, we have been averaging over 350 patients a month coming forward for assistance.

WILSON: There are about a million and a half unemployed in the state, adding to an already large uninsured population of more than three million. The economic crunch, Liberti notes, has occurred in the middle of a federal government push for states to test millions of people for HIV and get people into treatment early.

LIBERTI: So if you saw a picture of this, you would see that the demand and the number of patients coming forward has gone up dramatically, but the funding that pays for the pharmaceuticals and the drugs did not.

WILSON: None of this was on 46-year-old Mike Demory's mind in December when he moved to Victor, Montana from Portland, Oregon. Back in Oregon, his medicines and part of his insurance premium were paid for by Oregon's ADAP.

MIKE DEMORY: I moved here for my mother. My mother has a lot of health problems and I didn't do much investigating as far as what they had, as far as plans for medication, plans for medical treatment, et cetera, et cetera.

WILSON: First, there was a month-long wait to see a doctor.

DEMORY: By the time I got in to see the doctor, I had been without my medication for a month and a half, which is bad for somebody on HIV.

WILSON: Luckily, he still had a one-month refill back at the pharmacy in Oregon that was sent to him by mail. And a case manager in Montana helped him apply for free drugs from pharmaceutical companies through the patients' assistance programs that most have.

DEMORY: So that's three application forms, because each one of my medications are manufactured by a different manufacturer.

WILSON: Murray Penner of the National Association of State and Territorial AIDS Directors says it's not just the economy.

MURRAY PENNER: The other factor driving that is just more people living longer, which is the obvious, and we know that's a good thing over time. But it's something that has been coming over a long period of time since all the new treatments have come into play.

WILSON: In the past, federal and state governments have come up with the emergency assistance. But this time, Penner says Congress has failed to respond to an appeal from the states for $126 million.

PENNER: Everybody is supportive. I mean, we've got letters with lots of sign-ons from, you know, representatives and senators that's saying, sure, we want more money. But nobody is willing to stick their neck out and actually put more money towards the issue.

WILSON: So state AIDS directors like Florida's Tom Liberti say they're just hanging on until the next fiscal year.

LIBERTI: We don't want people to panic. We don't want people to make wrong decisions about getting tested or coming forward. I do believe that if the economy gets better and some additional federal resources come through, that we can get by this. Just - it's unclear on how long.

WILSON: Brenda Wilson, NPR News.

SIEGEL: You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.

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