Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, according to his offiicial biography, is dedicated to “improving health care access and affordability, protecting the sanctity of all human life….” Not quite, if you consider his hat trick that could wipe $60 million of the HIV/AIDS prevention program. Coburn added a provision to the recently renewed Ryan White HIV/AIDS Treatment Act that will divert $60 million from the Centers for Disease Control’s HIV/AIDS prevention budget over the next three years into a fund for which no state qualifies.
The HIV Early Diagnosis Grant initiative mandates that $30 million of the CDC’s prevention budget be set aside each year for states that meet a particular set of guidelines for HIV testing. The problem is that not one state meets these specific guidelines. However, the $30 million will be taken out of the CDC’s budget, regardless.
Under the Early Diagnosis Grant program, states could receive money if they provide voluntary HIV testing of pregnant women and universal testing of newborns, and voluntary HIV testing at sexually transmitted infections clinics and at substance abuse treatment centers.
In anticipation of a loss of funds, the CDC has requested an additional $30 million in its 2008 budget. George W. Bush has already cut state and local prevention grants by $21 million since 2003. Laura Hanen, Director of Government Relations for the National Association of State and Territorial AIDS Directors, reports that HIV/AIDS advocates had asked Coburn for a compromise that would allow any unused portion of the $30 million to return to the CDC’s prevention budget each year, but he will not budge.
Diana Bruce of the AIDS Alliance for Children, Youth & Families defends Coburn as “a senator who cares a lot about HIV/AIDS” issues, but says that his initiative is misguided. “There already is a massive effort to prevent mother to child transmission …the CDC has its own prenatal transmission programs,” Bruce said.