ALBANY, N.Y. (NEWS10) — On Black HIV/ AIDS Awareness Day, community members gathered at the New York State Capitol to urge Gov. Kathy Hochul to repeal a health care action plan. Activists said the Cuomo-era plan could hurt those with HIV/AIDS, keeping them from the resources and medications they need to survive.
“I’m here today because I am a Black woman living with HIV for 27 years. I have experienced homelessness,” Linda Beal said. “In our communities, we are suffering.” Beal stressed that this is not an old issue from the past, and that people are still being affected and infected by HIV and AIDS.
Members of the grassroots organization VOCAL-NY and the Damien Center joined Beal to call on Hochul to repeal Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s Medicaid Pharmacy Carve-out, set to begin April 1, 2023. They said the issue is the changes this carve-out would bring to 340B—a national program that allows safety net providers to purchase discounted drugs and use the savings to provide essential services. The carve-out would give funding to the state instead of facilities.
The Damien Center is a “safety net provider” in Albany that relies on 340b funding to help those with HIV and AIDS. The center provides everything from housing and food to connecting people with life-saving medications.
“If that funding is taken away, it affects the services that we can provide to individuals in the Black and brown community,” said Omari Edwards, the associate executive director of programs at the Damien Center.
Edwards said funneling the money to the state instead of directly to facilities like the Damien Center would disproportionately affect those in the local African American and Latin community. “If you look at the stats of the members that we have here, the majority of them—between 85 and 90%—are of African American and Latino descent,” Edwards said.
This isn’t the first time advocates took issue with Cuomo’s proposed carve-out. In January 2021, over 40 lawmakers sent a letter to Cuomo urging him to repeal the plan.
NEWS10 reached out to Hochul’s office. The New York State Department of Health (DOH) responded, saying that the governor plans to transition to the Medicaid Pharmacy Benefit on April 1, 2023, but is committed to supporting 340B entities:
“The Governor and the New York State Department of Health will continue to engage and educate 340B entities on this important initiative, which will ensure enhanced access to Medicaid pharmacy benefits, and remain committed to reinvesting all 340B savings directly to 340B safety net clinics to ensure a smooth transition.”
Over 30 safety net providers, along with The Damien Center, penned a letter to Governor Hochul that stated the Medicaid Pharmacy Benefit is dangerous. “Our facilities depend on funds generated from 340B program to provide care and services to 2.3 million underserved New Yorkers. Approximately 70% of those individuals are people of color and nearly 90% are low-income.”
NEWS10 asked Edwards what community members would do without The Damien Center’s services. “I don’t want to even think about it,” Edwards said. “All I can see is sadness, frustration, a destitute situation.”