2018 United States Conference on AIDS

 

 

June 12th has been designated as Orlando United Day.  On this day, we remember the 49 angels who were killed at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando. This was a deliberate attack on the LGBT community that must never be forgotten.

To show our support for Orlando and the LGBT community, NMAC is pleased to announce that we will hold the 2018 United States Conference on AIDS in Orlando on September 6-9, 2018.  Please save the date.

The 2018 meeting will highlight the contributions made by the LGBT community to our efforts in ending the epidemic.  Our community has suffered so many losses and we must stand together.

The 49 beautiful portraits in this e-newsletter were created by 49 different artists across the country.  Each portrait portrays someone who was killed in the Pulse shootings.  They are all on exhibit at the Terrace Gallery at Orlando City Hall from May 1 – June 14, 2017.

Yours in the struggle,

Board & Staff of NMAC
Stronger Together!

Resilience



By Fernando De Hoyos · NMAC Treatment Coordinator

Every year we come together on this day to honor the lives and struggles of Long-Term Survivors of HIV and AIDS. For me, everyone who was old enough to remember the early days of the epidemic is a long-term survivor regardless of HIV status. Countless allies living without the virus have been side by side with us along this journey. It was a time like no other in US history. June 5th was chosen because on this day, in 1981, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) first announced the “mysterious cancer” that was killing gay men around the country. Therefore, this day is a national day of remembrance and sharing our stories of resilience and survival, to document them for posterity.

I have told my story many times, so I want to talk about this year’s theme: “Resilience”. As a long-term survivor, I know resilience very well. Resilience is the ability to cope with adversity and to adapt well to tragedies, traumas, threats or severe stress. Being resilient does not mean not feeling discomfort, emotional pain, or difficulty in adversity. However, people living with HIV are usually able to overcome their diagnosis and adapt well over time. Resilience involves a series of behaviors and ways of thinking that anyone can learn and develop. I believe resilient people have three main characteristics: Know how to accept reality as it is; Have a deep belief that life makes sense; And have an unwavering ability to adapt to almost anything, often making the best out of it.

Resilient people usually possess a good dosage of realistic optimism. A positive vision of the future without being carried away by unreality or fantasies. Our perceptions and thoughts influence the way we deal with stress and adversity. We don’t run away from problems but face them head on and seek creative and innovative solutions. It involves seeing problems as challenges that we can overcome and not as terrible threats. Challenges are opportunities for learning and growing. I think blessings sometimes come in ugly packages, but what is inside could be the gift of a lifetime. “We are shaped by our thoughts; we become what we think.”– Buddha.

Which takes me to Gratefulness. Gratitude is a major contributor to resilience. When we focus on what we have, we realize that what we might be missing is not as important. It allows us to focus on life from a place of abundance versus a place of deficit. Gratitude improves physical and psychological health. Studies have shown that people living with HIV who practice gratefulness are more likely to take care of their heath, exercise and have good medication adherence. Developing an attitude of gratitude is one of the simplest ways to improve quality of life and sense of wellbeing.

Life is a blessing, with all the good and the not so good. The notion that whatever our journey might be, is unique and wonderful as it is. This is what makes life worth living. We just must be present to enjoy it, and the present moment is a gift, that’s why is called The Present. Please join us in raising awareness about HIV Long-Term Survivors contributions and accomplishments, as well as needs, issues, and journeys.

Yours in the Struggle,

New Administration, Old Approach: Trump advocates Medicaid Block Grants & ACA Repeal

 

As the shifting legislative landscape of President Trump’s first 100 days continues, two major developments emerged in the health care reform world: that the Trump administration plans to block grant the Medicaid program and that President Trump signed an initial executive order weakening the ACA.

 

From its inception in 1965 under President Lyndon Johnson until the present day, Medicaid has served as a public insurance program for low-income individuals, families, and people with certain disabilities. Unlike Medicare, which was created at the same time and is both federally funded and administered, Medicaid is a federal-state partnership program in which each individual state administers their own Medicaid program using a mixture of state and federal funds, provided that certain services and populations are covered. For the entirety of its existence, Medicaid has been an entitlement program, which means that the government is required to provide coverage for anyone who meets the eligibility rules for enrollment. This means that the amount of money being spent on a state’s Medicaid program fluctuates from year-to-year based on how many people qualify for coverage.

 

Every Republican President since Ronald Reagan has tried, and so far failed, to turn Medicaid from an entitlement program into a discretionary block grant program. Block granting Medicaid would mean the federal government would present states with a predetermined amount of money to serve their low-income and disabled residents at the beginning of each year. Most plans to block grant Medicaid would determine the amount of funding based on previous state and federal Medicaid spending in a given state, with slight changes each year to account for inflation. The states would then be allowed to determine exactly how to spend that money with many fewer requirements than in the current system. This means that if there were a recession, an unexpected disaster, disease outbreak or if general health care costs continued to rise faster than inflation, state governments would not be given extra federal funds.

 

In such a situation, states would address the health care needs of their low income and disabled residents through a variety of means, but most would reduce or eliminate covered services, restrict access to the program, or introduce higher cost-sharing mechanisms. Taken together, this would adversely affect the health and wellbeing of those in need of care. In a best case scenario, states would take on the excess costs themselves. However, this might prove difficult since many states are required to balance their budgets which might require tax increases or additional sources of revenue to meet these increased Medicaid costs. As a result, many states would choose to avoid added costs by changing the Medicaid eligibility criteria, reducing Medicaid benefits, and simply not providing care to people who are eligible. According to an analysis of a previous Republican proposal from 2012, the block granting of Medicaid could wind up dropping anywhere between 14.3 million and 20.5 million people from care.

 

It is nearly impossible to overstate how devastating Medicaid block granting would be for people living with or at risk of contracting HIV. Right now, Medicaid is the largest source of insurance coverage for people living with HIV, covering more than 40% of people with HIV who are in care. At the same time, Medicaid accounts for 30% of all federal HIV spending and when combined with state Medicaid spending, represents the 2nd biggest source of public HIV financing, trailing only Medicare. Under block grant funding, people living with HIV could bear some of the largest burdens of all impacted populations, because state governments may choose benefit designs that disproportionately affect pricey HIV medications. Given the amount of stigma regarding people living with HIV, LGBT people, and lower income populations, it is possible that some states would choose to do so. Although it may sound unlikely that a state government would discriminate against the provision of medical treatment for certain populations, it has been suggested in the past. For example homophobic legislators in Tennessee openly questioned providing funds to treat people living with AIDS due to their “bizarre lifestyle.” AIDS United strongly opposes block granting Medicaid and we urge readers to call their legislators with that message.

 

President Trump’s executive order intended to weaken the ACA may be more important for what it suggests than for what it actually accomplishes. The executive order directs federal agencies to use their current regulatory authority to “minimize the economic burden” and minimize or remove “any provision…that would impose a fiscal burden on any State, or a cost, fee, tax, penalty, or regulatory burden on an individual.” The order would also grant waivers to states that undercut the cost of consumer protections, encourage the sale of health insurance across state lines, and encourages agencies to use discretion to avoid expanding the ACA.

 

By himself, Mr. Trump doesn’t have the power to repeal or directly impede the implementation of the ACA. However, he can instruct the employees of federal agencies to begin chipping away at the law’s effectiveness. For example, the Trump administration can’t formally strike down the ACA’s individual mandate that all Americans be insured, but he can instruct the IRS to simply not fine anyone who doesn’t abide by the mandate, rendering it useless. Similarly, the executive order instructs the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to provide states with considerable leeway when it comes to the implementation of their health care programs and encourages HHS to accept waivers from states that would help them get around ACA regulations that they find overly restrictive.

 

On Thursday, the administration reportedly took another step to undermine the ACA. White House officials ordered the Department of Health and Human Services to halt all advertising and outreach efforts encouraging enrollment in ACA health plans purchased on the Healthcare.govmarketplace during the last days of the 2017 open enrollment period. This is significant because in previous ACA open enrollment periods, the final days were among the heaviest for signing up for health coverage. The White House action does not affect people’s ability to sign-up for coverage on the website; open enrollment ends Tuesday, Jan. 31.

 

AIDS United believes that the ACA must remain in place and that no effort to make changes, including this executive order, should attempt to repeal the law without an immediate and effective replacement in place. AIDS United will continue to provide concise analysis of the what’s happening in Washington regarding health care reform and why it should matter to people living with HIV.

 

Posted By: AIDS United, Policy Department – Friday, January 27, 2017
Search Tags: Affordable Care Act , HIV Policy

In Congress, Obamacare Replacement Plans Start To Emerge

 

Just twenty-five days into the 115th Congress, the Republican congressional majority has made significant steps to make good on campaign promises to repeal the ACA and setup President Trump for swift action on his other top priorities. Republicans kicked off a policy retreat in Philadelphia Wednesday that extends through Friday evening where they hope to hash out how to repeal and replace Obamacare.
While Republicans have had the last six years, and five-dozen attempts to overturn the ACA and plot a replacement, no clear consensus has risen on what to do following repeal. Adding to the uncertainty of how they might repeal and replace Obama’s signature law, is the assertion by President Trump that he will send his own plan to Congress, once his Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary nominee, Tom Price is confirmed. The notion of the White House sending legislation to Congress is unnerving for many lawmakers and calls into question the separation of powers. Senator Rand Paul M.D. (R-KY), who introduced The Obamacare Replacement Act (S.222) this week, said in a statement that, “Sometimes you get ideas from the White House,” which underscores the atypical nature of President Trumps desired path toward repeal.

The Paul Replacement 

Sen. Paul’s bill has several provisions including an immediate repeal of the individual and employer mandates, the essential health benefits requirement, and other insurance mandates. Further the bill would allow unlimited deposits into Health Savings Accounts and broaden options for using those funds; allow the purchasing of insurance across state lines; and create voluntary associations for insurance pooling.

Cassidy-Collins replacement 

Sens. Bill Cassidy (R-LA) and Susan Collins (R-ME) held a press conference Monday to propose three options states could consider moving forward with health care coverage. States could either keep the Affordable Care Act (ACA) but with reduced federal funding for subsidies, switch to a different system to purchase insurance coverage, again with reduced subsidies , or go forward with an alternate plan that does not include federal assistance. The Cassidy-Collins proposal is in direct contrast to plans discussed by House and Senate leadership, which would not let the ACA continue in any form. Cassidy notes that this proposal serves as a middle-way approach that could potentially bridge Democrats’ and Republicans’ concerns. However, the Cassidy-Collins one-page compromise still needs legislative language.

Cassidy noted:
“At some point in this process, we will need a bill that can get to 60 votes. Now you can say to a blue-state senator who is invested in supporting Obamacare, ‘You can keep it, but why force it on us?’” Collins, affirms saying, “I believe most states would embrace this option, which allows states to cover the uninsured by providing a standard plan that has a high-deductible, basic pharmaceutical coverage, some preventive care and free immunizations.”

The question is, what does the rest of Congress think?

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) described the proposal as “an empty facade that would create chaos.” Schumer wasn’t the only Democrat that predicted insurmountable challenges in the Cassidy-Collins proposal. Democratic leadership call into question the idea of giving some states the option to dismantle the current health care law and replace it with something else or nothing at all, for that matter. Conversely, Republican leadership hasn’t publicly commented much on the generality of the bill. Furthermore, Republicans have persistently supported the dismantling of the current health care law’s taxes and fees.

Presidential Executive Order 

As one of his first actions last Friday, Trump signed an executive order intended to minimize the economic burden of the ACA, pending its repeal. The order allows the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and other federal agencies to use their existing powers “to the maximum extent permitted by law” to weaken the ACA. HHS and agencies such as the IRS “were given vast discretion over key parts of the law including the individual and employer mandates,” per Pro Health Care’s Brianna Ehley. What this could mean is that it is possible to stop the individual mandate from being enforced.

In addition to President Trump’s actions, there was a congressional hearing, at which Republican members sought to expose what they perceive to be a decrease in marketplace competition and affordability. The hearing examined the “Failures of Obamacare.” There was also a hearing on theACA Individual Mandate. The hearing on the Price Nomination for HHS Secretary was also a forum for Republican senators to air their ACA-related grievances.

As HIV advocates we remain vigilant in the changing landscape and continue to seek intelligence and influence the proposed changes to our health care systems. It is imperative that the ACA not be repealed without a replacement that protects the expanded access the law has brought. We must insure vulnerable population, including people living with or at risk for HIV, are provided the access to care they deserve.

Posted By: AIDS United, Policy Department – Friday, January 27, 2017

5 Things To Know About Rep. Tom Price’s Health 

Rep. Tom Price has introduced his own alternative to the Affordable Care Act four times. The legislation provides an idea of how he might lead the Department of Health And Human Services.

Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Georgia Rep. Tom Price has been a fierce critic of the Affordable Care Act and a leading advocate of repealing and replacing the 2010 health care law.

Price, an orthopedic surgeon from the suburbs of Atlanta, introduced his own legislation to repeal and replace Obamacare in the current Congress and the three previous sessions. Price’s plan, known as the Empowering Patients First Act, was the basis for a subsequent health care proposal unveiled by House Speaker Paul Ryan, with Price’s endorsement, in June.

Price’s major complaint about the ACA is that it puts the government in the middle of the doctor-patient relationship.

“They believe the government ought to be in control of health care,” Price said in June at the American Enterprise Institute event where Ryan unveiled theRepublican proposal to replace Obamacare. “We believe that patients and doctors should be in control of health care,” Price continued. “People have coverage, but they don’t have care.”

Now that President-elect Donald Trump has tapped Price to lead the Department of Health and Human Services, here are five key planks in his own health care proposal.

  1. Price’s plan offers fixed tax credits so people can buy their own insurance on the private market. The credit starts at $1,200 a year and rises with age, but isn’t adjusted for income. Everyone receives the same credit whether they are rich or poor. People on Medicaid, Medicare, the military health plan known as Tricare, or the Veterans Affairs’ health plan could opt instead for the tax credit to buy private insurance.
  2. Price advocates for expansion of health savings accounts, which allow people to save money before taxes to pay for health care. This includes allowing people who are covered by government health programs including Medicare and the VA to contribute to health savings accounts to pay for premiums and copayments. These proposals are included in Ryan’s plan.
  3. People with existing medical conditions couldn’t be denied coverage under Price’s plan as long as they had continuous insurance for 18 months prior to selecting a new policy. If they didn’t, then they could be denied coverage for that condition for up to 18 months after buying a new plan.
  4. The Price proposal limits the amount of money companies can deduct from their taxes for employee health insurance expenses. Companies can deduct up to $20,000 for a family health insurance plan and $8,000 for an individual. The goal is to discourage companies from offering overly generous insurance benefits to their workers. Ryan’s plan proposes a cap on the employer tax deduction but doesn’t specify the level of the cap.
  5. States would get federal money to create so-called high-risk pools under Price’s plan. These are government-run health plans for people with existing medical conditions who can’t get affordable health insurance on the private market. Critics say high-risk pools have been tried in as many as 34 states and largely failed because they were routinely underfunded.

Price has said he’s not wedded to his own ideas and is open to compromise, so the final proposal to replace Obamacare is likely to be a hybrid of his ideas and those hammered out with other Republican House members and presented as Ryan’s plan.

Still, with Price on track to be at the helm of HHS, he would be the one writing the rules to implement whatever legislation is eventually passed.

Replacing Obamacare: A Look At Competing Conservative Health Care Proposals

 

The chances that the Affordable Care Act (ACA) is still the law of land at this point next year are somewhere between slim and none. With that being said, there is very little consensus around what will take its place. Despite the charged rhetoric from President-elect Trump, a full repeal of the ACA, as promised in his Contract With The American Voter, is unlikely for a number of pragmatic reasons. For starters, a complete repeal of the ACA would require at least 60 votes in the Senate, which isn’t likely given that the GOP will only hold 52 Senate seats. And, should the 60 vote hurdle be cleared, Congressional Republicans and the Trump administration would be forced to confront the fact that replacement plans created by GOP leaders and conservative think tanks are more conceptual than practical, proving thin on implementation instructions.

For his part, President-elect Trump doesn’t have a fully-formed health care plan of his own. Throughout the campaign and well into his presidential transition, both Mr. Trump’s personal and professional views on health care reform have been somewhat murky. At various times, President-elect Trump has promised to both fully repeal and keep major portions of the ACA, praised Planned Parenthood while also pledging to defund it, and said that he will “take care of everyone” while releasing a health care plan that would leave an estimated 21 million people without insurance. However, if his current platform and conservative cabinet picks are any indication, it does not appear that his administration’s health care policy will deviate too much from the GOP norm. It is very likely that any health care plan pushed by Trump will include the repeal of much of the ACA. What Trump and Congressional Republicans end up replacing it with is less certain, but the shape of reforms to come can be seen in previous proposals from Republican leadership and how closely they align to the health care page of Trump’s transition website.

Of all the existing Republican proposals, two are currently positioned to serve as blueprints for whatever Congressional Republicans and the Trump administration agree on as a replacement for the ACA. The first proposal and frontrunning proposal was put forth by House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) this past summer as part of his “A Better Way” platform, is the closest thing the Republican Party currently has to a comprehensive vision of what conservative health care policy should look like. The second proposal, the Empowering Patients First Act of 2015, is the latest in a series of legislation proposed by Representative Tom Price (R-GA), who was recently nominated by President-elect Trump to be Secretary of the Department of Health & Human Services. A Tea Party conservative and former orthopedic surgeon, Price currently serves as chairman of the House Budget Committee and has been one of the most vocal opponents of the ACA in Congress. Ryan’s A Better Way plan incorporates many of the health care reform mechanisms that are included in the Empowering Patients First Act of 2015 and, given their leadership roles within the House and HHS, there’s good reason to believe that any ACA replacement plan formulated by the Trump Administration and Congress will borrow heavily from them.

There is plenty of nuance and detail to be sifted through in their health care proposals, but the defining characteristics of both are that they benefit those who are young, healthy, and well-to-do at the expense of those who are old, sick, and poor. Like the policy listed on President-elect Trump’s transition site, both the Ryan and Price plans shift the burden of providing Americans with health insurance from the Federal government and society at large to the States and individual citizens. The Republican plans replace the much maligned individual mandate to purchase health insurance and the comprehensive, need-based subsidies provided through the ACA with free-market approaches that emphasize health savings accounts and the ability to purchase insurance across state lines while doling out tax credits based on age rather than income.

On the surface, the Ryan and Price plans continue to bar insurance companies from raising rates and denying coverage due to pre-existing conditions, but a closer look shows that their proposals would only prohibit insurers from raising rates on sick people if they maintain “continuous coverage.” In layman’s terms, this means is that if someone loses their coverage for any reason after the ACA had been repealed and replaced, the insurance companies would then be allowed to hike up their rates based on any pre-existing conditions.

As for the 14 million people who were able to receive insurance though the ACA’s Medicaid expansion, most or all of them would no longer be covered by the leading Republican contenders to replace Obamacare. One of the few concrete proposals that Trump mentioned on the campaign trail was transitioning Medicaid into a block grant program. Currently, Medicaid is funded as an entitlement program where the federal government is obligated to assist states with coverage costs no matter how many people have qualified for the program. Through a block grant, states would be given a set amount of money by the federal government at the beginning of the year and would be forced to make do with what they had regardless of how many people were eligible for coverage. While theoretically not a bad thing, the purpose of transitioning the Medicaid funding to a block grant in the Ryan and Price plans is to reduce the federal contributions to the program and create more flexibility for state to adjust benefit design. There is no detailed breakdown of what effect the Medicaid block grant system would have in Price’s plan, but an analysis of a Medicaid block grant proposal in Ryan’s 2012 budget by the Kaiser Family Foundation estimates that that between 14 and 20 million people would lose coverage.

There are certainly a number of different directions for health care policy to go in the next 4 years, but—whether the end product looks more like Ryan’s plan, Price’s plan, or something else entirely—the HIV advocacy community and those who fight for quality, affordable health care for all Americans will have their work cut out for them.

Posted By: AIDS United, Policy Department – Friday, December 02, 2016

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