The Bush administration on Friday granted a request from key senators, including Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, to transfer $5 million in federal AIDS funds to a program that provides the drug AZT to patients who cannot afford the costly treatment.
The action by the Department of Health and Human Services will allow new funds to be sent to states to carry their programs for six months. Several states had already run out of the funding.Utah "had a little to get through April and we're hoping to squeak through until July 1 when the new appropriation kicks in," said Rod Betit, director of the Division of Health Care Financing, which administers the funds in Utah.
"We haven't started looking at this as a major problem yet, but (the Utah State Health Department) did phone Sen. Hatch's office to express our support for his efforts to get the federal money restored," Betit said.
Without the federal transfer, the state would have had to rely on limited state funds. Supplemental funding, which was requested during the last Utah Legislature to bridge the gap to July 1, was not approved.
Nearly 7,000 of the estimated 30,000 AIDS victims using AZT nationwide receive the drug under the program, created by Congress in 1987 and extended for six months last September.
The drug, which has been shown to extend the lives of many AIDS patients, costs about $8,000 a year when taken at full dosage. It is currently the only drug approved by the government to treat acquired immune deficiency syndrome.
Tuesday, Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., Hatch and 11 other senators requested the transfer. They said HHS had been authorized by Congress in September to redirect $15 million to the program but had reprogrammed only $10 million, contrary to the intentions of Congress.