Non-Profits Blast Cuomo for “Misleading” on HIV Funding

Governor Andrew Cuomo.
Photo courtesy of Governor’s office

Several health organizations have lashed out at Governor Andrew Cuomo after his team celebrated the allocation of $100 million into services for people living with HIV/ AIDS at a time when the state is separately planning to divert crucial funding away from programs serving those same individuals.

“The $100 million grant is just giving with one hand while you take much more with the other,” Patrick McGovern, chief business development and policy officer at Amida Care, a not-for-profit health plan serving people living with HIV/AIDS, told Gay City News on December 7.

Many other organizations, including Housing Works, Harlem United, the Callen-Lorde Community Center, GMHC, and the Alliance for Positive Change, are all speaking out in the latest chapter of an ongoing controversy brewing in Albany surrounding funding for HIV/ AIDS service providers — all while COVID-19 rages out of control.

Those groups and others were already outraged because of looming changes to the federal 340B program, which requires drug manufacturers participating in Medicaid to distribute medication at discounted rates to managed care providers with underserved clients. Those providers are then able to use the remaining funds they receive to pay for those drugs to carry out other services.

Safety net hospitals, which provide care to patients regardless of financial status, as well as community health non-profits and homeless shelter providers, are among those benefiting the most from the 340B programs — for now.

But that program is in limbo in New York after the state passed a budget slated to go into effect April 1 that would carve out that program in a way that would shift funding away from service providers to the state in a fee-for-service model. In turn, the non-profit groups have warned that they would collectively lose out on as much as $250 million in one year, forcing some providers to shutter while generally impeding the fight to end the HIV/ AIDS epidemic in the state.

That outrage boiled over when the governor’s World AIDS Day press release said the state “will provide more than $100 million in Medicaid Redesign savings directly to 340B providers in the upcoming year to mitigate changes in reimbursement and ensure continuation of critical services.”

The press release described that as a “step the state has taken to bolster the state’s progress in fighting to end the epidemic.”

That was not the first time the Cuomo administration pointed to the $100 million plan — the state’s Health Department told Gay City News about the plan in November — but the way in which it was mentioned on World AIDS Day was especially irritating to community groups and prompted them to put the 340B program cutbacks back into the spotlight yet again. The Health Department pointed to the $100 million in response to Gay City News’ inquiry last month about the 340B cutbacks.

“This is a deeply flawed view of the reality to be faced by our most vulnerable neighbors as a result of the governor’s actions,” Harlem United’s CEO, Jacquelyn Kilmer, said in a written statement.

Aiming her comments directly at the governor, Kilmer added, “Governor Cuomo, this plan to mitigate the damage caused by these changes is a slap in the face to all of New York’s most vulnerable communities and an insult to those working on their behalf. Touting such a plan in the World AIDS Day press release as a solution sadly demonstrates a lack of empathy and compassion for those indigent New Yorkers who will languish and likely not survive without being able to access the life-saving medications and services they need. It is shameless thievery from those whom your office swore to protect.”

Housing Works, which serves clients living with HIV/ AIDS and experiencing homelessness, could lose $10 million in annual 340B rebates beginning in April, the organization wrote in a press release on December 2.

Among other compounding concerns, some groups are warning that the state is withholding 20 percent of funding contracts with non-profit organizations.

“On World AIDS Day (WAD) 2020, Governor Andrew Cuomo released a statement that was misleading at best and on some points frankly dishonest,” Housing Works noted in a press release. “We have a right to expect clear and honest public health statements from our New York leaders, not the wishful thinking and unsupported boasts, half-truths, and falsehoods we’ve come to expect at the national level from the Trump Administration. We are saddened that the Governor tried to use World AIDS Day to mask and divert attention from deep cuts to our State’s HIV response that signal the Governor’s abandonment of his own historic plan for Ending the Epidemic (EtE) in NYS.”

Even some of the parties quoted by Cuomo in his press release were unhappy with it, such as GMHC, whose CEO, Kelsey Louie, had praised the governor in that release “for his leadership on groundbreaking programs and services created by New York’s Blueprint to End the Epidemic.”

“GMHC was pleased to provide a quote for Gov. Cuomo’s World AIDS Day statement last week remembering those we have lost and praising the collaborative efforts of government and community to advance EtE efforts,” GMHC noted in a December 7 release. “However, we were dismayed to see it included in a press release that justified the Medicaid Carve-Out Plan that will devastate the State’s healthcare safety net. GMHC does not support the governor’s Medicaid Carve-Out Plan.”

Callen-Lorde Community Health Center, which provides healthcare and related services targeted to the city’s LGBTQ community, also took aim at the governor in a separate press release entitled “ENOUGH IS ENOUGH.”

“We are at a crossroads,” Wendy Stark, the organization’s executive director, said in a written statement. “Our ability to provide care would be irreparably damaged and, likewise, the health of the state would be devastated by the impact of the carve-out. The announcement by the governor flew in the face of the task that we have been charged with as safety net providers and goes against what we have been recommending to the administration for months. It will cost jobs and ultimately, cost lives.”

Callen-Lorde is slated to lose $12 million, or 14 percent of its overall budget, if the 340B changes go into effect, the organization noted.

This first appeared on GayCityNews.com