SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
The AIDS Drug Assistance Program, or ADAP, is a safety net for people with HIV who cannot pay for drug treatment. But for the past few years, demand has outpaced ADAP funding. In some states, that means putting patients on a wait list for treatment. As Jim Burress reports from WABE in Atlanta, Georgia's waiting list may soon go away, but there may be other complications.
JIM BURRESS, BYLINE: James Lark is 47 years old and HIV positive.
JAMES LARK: My brother had passed away with AIDS. And, you know, to me that was blah, you know, I was just dead within and wasn't taking my life seriously.
BURRESS: Three years ago, homeless, James decided it was time to get a handle on his health. He qualified for Georgia's AIDS Drug Assistance Program, which paid for his medications - nearly $20,000 a year. James is now on government assistance and doesn't have to depend on ADAP. But that could change.
LARK: I was getting a little money from Social Security, the SSI, and that ends in September. And that means I will have to go back on ADAP. And I will be on the waiting list.
BURRESS: Faced with a huge budget deficit, Georgia implemented a wait list two years ago. It quickly grew to the longest in the nation. But the list is shrinking. Nationwide, 1,800 people are now on a wait list. Georgia and Virginia account for more than half of those cases. The Obama administration has announced nearly $80 million in additional HIV funding. But is that enough to eliminate the wait lists?
It's a little bit hard to tell. Murray Penner is with the National Alliance of State and Territorial AIDS Directors. He says states' wait lists will probably disappear for a year or two.
MURRAY PENNER: It's very difficult to predict these things because there are so many variables that go into the serving of individuals that need medications.
BURRESS: Shifts in state and federal funding, drug costs and rebates and how many people seek treatment are constantly changing. For example, Georgia recently adopted a policy of treatment upon diagnosis. That means a longer, better life for many with HIV, but it also adds a cost burden to a state that can't support current demand.
The pharmacy at Atlanta's Ponce Center provides drugs and other services for more than 5,200 patients. But with the potential for hundreds of new patients, the Center's Jacque Muther isn't sure how to accommodate them.
JACQUE MUTHER: It's going to be a big challenge. I don't know how they're going to meet it. This new money is not going to resolve that.
BURRESS: And time is running out. ADAP funding is set to expire in just over a year. While the federal Affordable Care Act promises some help, advocates worry it has too many holes to guarantee comprehensive HIV treatment.
For NPR News, I'm Jim Burress in Atlanta.
SIMON: That piece is part of a collaboration with NPR, WABE and Kaiser Health News.
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