Wearing pink shirts and holding up signs, people gathered outside the Statehouse in Trenton recently as Democratic legislators led a rally to increase women’s health care funding in the face of opposition from Gov. Chris Christie.
When Assemblyman Herb Conaway Jr. (D-Burlington/Camden) addressed the crowd on June 20, he claimed Christie also has been cutting health care funding for another group: people with AIDS.
"This governor has cut funding repeatedly for people who have AIDS, who need drugs to save their life," said Conaway, a physician specializing in internal medicine. "People who have AIDS today can live out their life...almost as long as anybody else if they get the drugs they need and this governor, time and time again, has cut that."
PolitiFact New Jersey confirmed that the Christie administration had cut or proposed to cut state funding for AIDS and HIV services, but in two cases, other funding sources would allow the same number of individuals receiving those services to be served.
When we asked Conaway’s chief of staff, Ethan Hasbrouck, to back up the statement, he pointed to two funding cuts in the governor’s proposed budget for fiscal year 2012 as well as a change made last year in eligibility for the AIDS Drug Distribution Program.
Although a final budget for fiscal year 2012 was approved at the end of June, this Truth-O-Meter item focuses on the proposed budget at the time of Conaway’s statement. We later called Hasbrouck twice and sent him multiple emails to set up an interview with Conaway about our findings, but we never heard back.
Let’s review those three items one at a time.
Hasbrouck said the fiscal year 2011 budget lowered the income eligibility for the AIDS Drug Distribution Program. That disqualified about 960 people from the program, saving $7.9 million.
But the state later set up a new drug benefits program to assist those individuals who would no longer be eligible under the AIDS Drug Distribution Program. That new program was funded through additional rebates from pharmaceutical companies and a new federal grant program.
The state increased AIDS Drug Distribution Program funding last year for people who met the new income eligibility, but reduced spending in other categories of HIV services, according to Dawn Thomas, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Health and Senior Services.
Now, let’s turn to the cuts in the originally proposed fiscal year 2012 budget.
Hasbrouck correctly states that the governor’s proposed budget would have cut $4.7 million for special-care nursing facilities, including Broadway House in Newark, the state’s only long-term care facility for people living with HIV and AIDS.
The second proposed cut cited by Hasbrouck was $3.7 million from the AIDS Drug Distribution Program.
Although that state funding was proposed to be cut, the mix of funding sources would enable the same amount of participants to receive access to medications through both the AIDS Drug Distribution Program and the other drug benefits program, according to Thomas.
But remember this: two of the funding cuts cited by Hasbrouck were only proposals at the time of the assemblyman’s statement.
Here’s how the final budget for fiscal year 2012 affects AIDS and HIV funding:
The income eligibility for the AIDS Drug Distribution Program was restored to its previous level, but state funding for the program has been further reduced for a total cut of about $10.7 million, Thomas wrote in an email. Other funding sources will allow the same number of participants to be served, she wrote.
The budget reduces overall funding for nursing facilities, but there is no longer a specific cut to special-care nursing facilities like Broadway House, Thomas wrote. The impact on those special-care facilities remains unclear, she wrote.
Conaway claimed at a Statehouse rally that Christie has repeatedly cut AIDS funding. His chief of staff pointed to three pieces of evidence, one from the budget approved last year and two from the proposed budget for fiscal year 2012.
A spokeswoman for the state Department of Health and Senior Services confirmed cuts to AIDS and HIV funding in both budgets.
But last year, a new program was created to assist people impacted by the eligibility change. This year, state funding was proposed to be cut, but other funding sources were to maintain services for participants.
Conaway correctly stated that Christie has cut state funding for AIDS and HIV programs, but at least when it comes to pharmaceutical assistance, people continued to receive medicine for their AIDS and HIV treatment.
We rate his statement Mostly True.
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