Budget cuts affect Oregonians coping with HIV/AIDS

Effective July 1, the Oregon Health Authority cut approximately $100,000 of grant funding for the Cascade AIDS Project’s education and outreach budget for insurance enrollment.

The OHA is an umbrella organization for the state of Oregon focused on meeting and improving the health care needs of Oregonians.

Services such as education, coping methods, insurance guidance, job and housing placement as well as STI testing are among the services CAP provides. These services are made more available to students through Portland State. The organization is also listed on the Queer Resource Center community resource page.

“When we have a true positive [HIV test], not the preliminary positive from the rapid test but the full-on blood test, a CAP person will often come down to [the Center for Student Health and Counseling] and meet with the student, discuss treatment, and work on strategies to get anti-retrovirals paid for [or] covered,” said Nick Walden Poublan, student insurance advisor at PSU.

The cut to CAP resulted in two employee layoffs and the dismantling of their outreach and insurance guidance program.

“We are looking at our own budget to cover one of those positions,” said Peter Parisot, director of strategic development and communications at CAP. “We’re committed to making that happen.”

Compared to the 501(c)(3) nonprofit’s $6 million annual budget this amount is small, but what underlies it is the loss of culturally competent guidance for people coping with HIV from precontraction to treatment.

Last year, CAP surpassed an enrollment goal set by OHA by 58 percent, according to a press release from the organization.

According to Parisot, the cut came without warning or explanation, which suggests a lack of transparency within OHA.

Through the Oregon Health Plan, OHA provides insurance to HIV/AIDS patients. The OHA website is expansive and the home page lacks links to resources for insurance guidance for those coping with the infection.

A Vanguard reporter attempted to be directed by the OHA to proper services by telephone conversation, and found the state organization offered only general information. OHA transferred the caller to another branch of the agency multiple times, and finally to a nonprofit outside OHA.

The reporter identified himself as a sexually active gay male looking to find the right health plan for testing, preventive medications, and in the worst case scenario, treatment, and was specific in asking for help in guiding him through the process because insurance can be complicated and HIV is a life-threatening infection.

Insurance companies often use a tier system in which more expensive and rare drugs, like those used for HIV treatment, are on a higher tier and only covered under specific plans. This includes preemptive transmission defensive drugs called Pre–Exposure Prophylaxis, or PrEP.

Truvada is a PrEP drug and can be used for both HIV treatment and prevention. Parisot estimates the cost of Truvada is between $1,500 and $2,500 per month.

According to the AIDS.gov website, gay and bisexual men of all races are both the most severely affected by and at risk for HIV.

HIV treatment today is much different than it was 10 years ago. With proper medication infected persons can keep their CD4 cells high enough and viral levels low enough to virtually keep the virus from being transmitted and to live a functional, healthy life. CD4 cells, often called T-cells, are a type of white blood cell that help protect the body from infection.

“For people living with HIV and other chronic diseases [insurance guidance] is especially important because not all insurance plans are created equal,” Parisot said. “You need to find something that covers your HIV medicines at a reasonable price,”

Almost 275 people are diagnosed with HIV in Oregon each year, according to CAP.