A $3 million federal grant will allow the state to pay for medicine for nearly 300 low-income people infected with HIV who were seeking assistance.
The state Department of Health and Human Services announced Monday that it has started contacting 278 people on the waiting list for free, life-saving drugs. The Obama administration announced in mid-July that it was sending states money to eliminate waiting lists for help from the AIDS Drug Assistance Program. North Carolina is one of nine states with a waiting list.
“It’s a great thing,” said Stuart Campbell, executive director of Equality North Carolina, a gay advocacy group. “It brings the waiting list down to zero and really demonstrates how important public investment is in this kind of fight to combat HIV and AIDS.”
North Carolina has about 6,100 people receiving medicine through the federal program, but hundreds have been waiting because the state didn’t have enough money for all who were eligible.
Anti-HIV drugs not only make patients feel better, but are important in preventing transmission of the virus.
The drug assistance program in North Carolina has long struggled to cover all those seeking assistance. .
For years, the state had one of the strictest income qualifications in the nation. Single people could make no more than 125 percent of the federal poverty level to qualify. About six years ago, the legislature increased the limit to 300 percent of federal poverty.
But in January 2010, the state announced it would accept no more people into the program and would create a waiting list because it was running out of money. By July 2010, when the state began signing up people again, the waiting list had grown to 829 people. The state was able to find additional money to reduce the waiting list by 650 people, but the old income limitation was back in place.
Those limitations continue. The program is open to people who are at or below 300 percent of the federal poverty level, which is $33,510 for a single person. But new patients who make more than 125 percent of the federal poverty level, or about $14,000, will be put on the waiting list.
The state will receive more than enough to eliminate the current waiting list, said Chrissy Pearson, senior policy adviser to state Department of Health and Human Services acting Secretary Al Delia.
The department is considering a month-by-month review of new applicants to see how many more the state can help, she said.