четверг, 20 сентября 2012 г.

Many HIV patients living without access to health care. - La Crosse Tribune (La Crosse, WI)

Byline: Terry Rindfleisch

Aug. 29--Barb went two years without treatment for AIDS/HIV because she said she had no insurance and could not afford the drugs.

The La Crosse woman in her 50s, who was diagnosed in 1989, had health insurance when she had a job. Now she qualifies for disability due to back problems and has had help from the La Crosse office of the AIDS Resource Center of Wisconsin.

'Getting access to health care is a real big concern,' said Barb, not her real name, whose high premiums for health insurance had been covered by the Wisconsin Insurance Premium Subsidy Program.

'I wouldn't be able to afford my drugs if I had to pay the $600 a month premium for insurance,' she said.

Today, the AIDS virus is not detectable in Barb because of her drug regimen.

More than 6,000 people are living with HIV in Wisconsin -- more than at any time in the history of the AIDS epidemic. More than two-thirds live in severe poverty, and 40 percent have no health insurance, said Michael Gifford, chief operating officer for AIDS Resource Center of Wisconsin.

Gifford said ARCW supports a Legislative Joint Finance Committee recommendation to establish the Wisconsin HIV Health Care Access Program, a four-year pilot program to increase access to health insurance and funding for community-based health care for about 200 people.

The proposal -- to increase AIDS funding by $1.2 million and patient services by $1.4 million -- is before the state budget conference committee.

'It's a vital public policy package that ensures people with HIV the access to health care they need for a long and healthy life,' Gifford said.

Amy Jo Duquette, case manager for ARCW's office in La Crosse, said she has several clients who need help because they have no health insurance. She said she serves 43 men, 19 women and four children in the La Crosse area.

'Many don't have affordable insurance options,' Duquette said.

Duquette said AIDS/HIV has become a chronic disease, not a death sentence, because of the various effective drug therapies. Patients are no longer declared disabled immediately to qualify for government medical assistance, she said.

'They are healthier, live longer, and many work ful time,' Duquette said. 'But for those who can't find jobs, or have jobs without insurance, they can't afford insurance on their own. But if they had minor children, they would get insurance.'

Larry, a La Crosse man diagnosed with AIDS in 1991, said doctors expected him to die, but the cocktail drug therapy has kept him quite healthy and in remission.

Now in his 40s, Larry, not his real name, said he is concerned about access to health care because his job and eligibility for insurance change at times.

'AIDS/HIV is more of a manageable chronic disease now, and I expect to live to be 65, ' Larry said.

'The funny thing is I had good health insurance when I was considered disabled and they thought I would croak soon,' he said. 'Now I'm not sick, so I'm not disabled, only because of the drugs I take, but it's difficult to get good coverage now for the drugs and the health care I need to stay healthy.'

George, not his real name, a La Crosse area man in his 50s, was diagnosed with HIV infection last year.

'I'm lucky I have a job and my insurance pays for my drugs,' George said. 'What's reassuring today is with good drug therapy, you have lots of hope to live 15 to 20 years symptom-free.'

Terry Rindfleisch can be reached at trindfleisch@lacrossetribune.com, or (608) 791-8227.

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