President's Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS
HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius
February 27, 2014
AS PREPARED FOR DELIVERY
As all of you know, there was a time not too long ago, when getting an HIV diagnosis was like getting a death sentence.
Misinformation and misunderstanding was so widespread that the White House press secretary, when pressed to acknowledge the epidemic from the briefing room podium, actually cracked jokes about it.
Let's be honest, when the disease was first identified, this Department, too, was slow to respond. It's taken a lot of hard work and a lot of determination to get from there to where we are today.
The Progress We've Made
Last fall, we announced that the waiting list in the United States for the AIDS Drug Assistance Program had been cut down from 9,000 to zero in just two years.
As we speak, NIH grantees and scientists are hard at work exploring ways to treat HIV infection by administering anti-HIV antibodies. Just last year, the President signed an Executive Order directing federal agencies to increase HIV testing, services, and treatment, and improve patient access to all three.
The FDA has approved new, rapid diagnostic tests that can be used in a variety of settings to identify HIV-infected individuals who might not be tested in traditional health care settings.
And we've worked with seven leading pharmaceutical companies and foundations to create a single common (and commonsense) application for patient's assistance programs, to make things easier for patients and providers.
Thirty years ago, the Secretary of this agency said she thought we had finally "won the battle against fear" when it came to the stigma surrounding HIV/AIDS.
But, as we all remember, the spread of fear--and of misinformation--was really just beginning at that point. So, we've come a very, very long way since then.
This is thanks, in no small part, to the efforts of many of you in this room today. Martin Luther King, Jr. famously said that the "arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice."
So as we think about all of the progress we've made as a country, and all of the work that's been done, it's clear just how far that arc has bent.
And it's clear to me, looking at all you've managed to accomplish over the course of your careers, that your grasp on that arc is tenacious and that you're bending it for it's all worth.
As an Advisory Council, the guidance you've provided us over the past few years on vulnerable populations, on addressing the health needs of transgender Americans, and on the Ryan White Program, is invaluable.
And your policy recommendations have helped shape and inform the dialogue we've had here at HHS and the White House, as we've moved forward to implement the National HIV/AIDS strategy and to realize the President's vision of an AIDS-free generation.
Which I know was the focus of the wonderfully robust report you produced in September.
Affordable Care Act
I was glad to hear that the focus of your meeting today is on implementation of the Affordable Care Act, and how the law is impacting the lives of people living with HIV.
As you may know, we've seen a situation developing in Louisiana where certain insurers are saying they're going to stop accepting third- party payments from the Ryan White program. I want all of you to know that we're working to resolve this issue right now.
CMS has already issued guidance making it clear that federal rules do not prevent the use of Ryan White funds to pay for health care plans and encouraging issuers and Marketplaces to accept such payments.
And, by the way, we can add this to the list of reasons why we're hopeful holdout states like Louisiana that haven't yet decided to expand Medicaid, will get on with it and get on board.
More than 4 million people and counting have already signed up for quality, affordable coverage. That's coverage that you can't be charged more for just because you're a woman.
It's coverage that doesn't run out just when you need it the most. It's critically important that we keep this momentum going.
So I would ask, if any of you in this room know someone who doesn't have health insurance, that you leave here today and reach out to them and encourage them to sign on to HealthCare.gov or CuidadoDeSalud.gov, or call the call center, and get covered.
We have just a little more than a month left until March 31.
So I look forward to hearing about what you all discuss over the next day and a half.
I think I speak for all of us here at HHS when I say we owe you and your work a great debt of gratitude.
Thank you for your commitment, and for your continued dedication.