Story at a glance
- An HIV outbreak in Boston is highlighting the ongoing epidemic in the United States.
- President Biden has asked Congress for funds to end the crisis that began in the 1980s.
- Texas is scrambling to address a budget shortfall that threatened to leave some without HIV medication.
After a $52-million deficit and a computer glitch threatened to cut off thousands of Texans from vital HIV medication, the state's health agency is now saying they need additional funding to keep the program running.
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State lawmakers granted the Texas Department of State Health Services $52 million in emergency funding to the Texas HIV Medication Program, which provides access to HIV medication for more than 21,000 Texans who make at or below two times the federal poverty level. The coronavirus pandemic’s devastating toll on the economy led to a surge in enrollment, the agency reportedly said, just as medication costs increased.
Then, last month, agency officials revealed an error in medications as a result of a software glitch that officials say had never happened before, reported Houston Public Media, almost equal to the $34 million the DSHS received last year in coronavirus relief funds. Administrators are now doing manual checks and confirming digital records monthly, rather than annually, HPM reported, but this only exacerbated existing shortages.
"The inventory glitch has nothing to do with the program’s budget shortfall, did not create a deficit, and did not disrupt or threaten to disrupt delivery of medications," a spokesperson for the Texas Dept. of State Health Services, Chris Van Deusen, said in an email to Changing America. "While the computer glitch meant the inventory system showed more medication in stock than was actually on the shelf, no medication went missing, and all was delivered to patients normally."
In addition to the unexpected increase in enrollment and cost of medications, a decrease in drug rebate revenue from the pharmaceutical companies contributed towards the deficit, said Van Deusen.
After receiving $22 million in federal supplemental funds and assuming baseline supplemental amounts of $15 million each of the next two years 2022, the agency now needs another $34 million from the state to keep this potentially life-saving program running. More than 94,000 Texans were living with HIV in 2018, a number that has likely grown, and while the program has been successful in curbing the spread of HIV, the state still has one of the highest infection rates in the country.
“I’ve never seen anything like this and I’ve been doing this for 10 years,” said Januari Fox, the policy and advocacy director at PRISM Health of North Texas, reported Spectrum News. “That’s what we are looking for...what happened to get us to this point. There clearly was some pretty serious mismanagement.”
Editor's note: This story was updated on April 23 at 9:50 am ET with comments from Chris Van Deusen. The amount of money the program is seeking was also updated.
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