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AFC leads sound HIV/AIDS policy in Illinois, working on issues such as funding for HIV services, HIV prevention, increased access to housing, comprehensive sexual health education, and much more. This is your source for information on legislative updates and advocacy.

To learn more and find out how you can get involved in advocacy for funding and other issues, join AFC’s advocacy network.

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Advocacy groups report to UN on US failures to address the HIV epidemic in communities of color PDF Print
Wednesday, August 06, 2014

CHICAGO —HIV/AIDS activists have found a unique way to pressure the U.S. to prioritize and address rising rates of HIV among communities of color. In a report submitted to the United Nations, a national coalition of HIV/AIDS advocacy organizations details the disparate impact of HIV/AIDS on communities of color, and identifies the lack of U.S. action on social drivers of the epidemic in those communities as a human rights violation.

Led by the HIV Prevention Justice Alliance (HIV PJA), a project of the AIDS Foundation of Chicago (AFC), the report calls on the U.S. to make good on its ratification of the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD) in January 2013. In the Convention, the U.S. pledged to “address disparities in HIV prevention and care involving racial and ethnic minorities and other marginalized populations.”

“Unfortunately, U.S. efforts to combat HIV/AIDS in communities of color have fallen far short of their goals,” said Suraj Madoori, manager of HIV PJA, who will deliver the report to the UN in Geneva. “We believe that this failure to uplift the human rights of these historically marginalized people is a direct violation of this country’s pledge to adhere to CERD.”

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), African Americans represent approximately 12 percent of the U.S. population but accounted for an estimated 44 percent of new HIV infections in 2010. New infections among Latinos/Latinas were also significantly higher than their white counterparts in 2010. The report also details the rising epidemic among black gay and bisexual men, as well as transgender women.

“[H]igh infection rates are due in part to a combination of unjust and uneven policies and laws that enforce racism, stigma, criminalization and discrimination,” the HIV advocates’ report asserts. The report cites specific examples such as mass imprisonment, poverty, unemployment and lack of health care access as key contributors to the U.S.’s systemic failure to prevent new HIV infections among socially disenfranchised groups. Read the full report here.

“We believe that an intersectional approach to the epidemic is key to overcome racial inequalities,” explains report co-author Naina Khanna, Executive Director of the Positive Women’s Network of the United States of America (PWN-USA). “We need to address the impact of social drivers such as HIV criminalization laws, unemployment, and lack of access to overall health care, in order to make significant progress.”

Built on input and consensus from partners, with expert assistance constructing legal arguments from the Center for HIV Law and Policy, the report states, “[T]his disparity – in part due to laws, policies and practices – continues to systemically discriminate against communities of color; increases vulnerability to HIV transmission and to stigma and discrimination following HIV diagnosis; and places people of color living with HIV at undue risk for criminalization and human rights violations.”

In its 2013 compliance report to the CERD committee, the U.S. identified the National HIV/AIDS Strategy (NHAS) as its key method for eliminating racial disparities in new HIV infections. The NHAS aimed to take sweeping actions to prevent new HIV infections and support Americans living with HIV/AIDS, but the authors of the CERD report believe it will fall far short of its goals.

“We hope that the HIV advocates’ report to the U.N. will urge the U.S. to more effectively respond to the racial disparities in new HIV infections, reconfigure the NHAS to be more ambitious in its goals and encourage it to be more accountable in its implementation across vulnerable communities,” said co-author Kenyon Farrow, Director of U.S. and Global Policy at Treatment Action Group.

The coalition behind this report includes AFC and HIV PJA, PWN-USA, the Center for HIV Law and Policy, the Counter Narrative Project, National Working Positive Coalition, Sero Project, Treatment Action Group and Women with a Vision.




Illinois advocates hail great first step to end discrimination against transgender individuals in health insurance coverage PDF Print
Tuesday, July 29, 2014

CHICAGO — Several Illinois-based advocacy groups joined together today to praise the Illinois Department of Insurance for taking a crucial first step in addressing discrimination against transgender Illinoisans in insurance coverage. The groups  the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois, the AIDS Foundation of Chicago, Lambda Legal and the TransLife Center of Chicago House & Social Service Agency  have a long history of working for the rights of LGBT people and people living with HIV. The groups also share a commitment to ending discrimination against transgender people and advancing parity in transgender people’s access to health care.

The Bulletin issued to private insurers in the state notes that many insurance plans sold in Illinois may not discriminate against transgender people and must provide them coverage for the same medical treatment available for non-transgender policy holders. The Bulletin cites current Illinois law and the federal Affordable Care Act, both of which prohibit discrimination by insurers against transgender people because of their gender identity.

Transgender people often face discrimination when seeking insurance coverage of medically-necessary treatments prescribed by their physicians, even though such treatments are routinely covered for others. For example, hormone therapy and regular blood tests to guard against any negative medical consequences are routinely covered for many people, such as post-menopausal women, but are currently denied to many transgender people. Likewise, breast reconstruction surgery is routinely covered for women after surgery for breast cancer, but is routinely denied for transgender people, even if ordered by a physician.

There are many other medical procedures and treatments that are covered routinely each day  from surgery to mammograms to Pap smears  for non-transgender people that are often denied to transgender people, even though they are prescribed by a physician as medically-necessary treatment.

The Department of Insurance bulletin says such denials are discriminatory and not permitted under existing law. In recent months, insurance authorities in Oregon, California, Colorado, Vermont, Massachusetts, Washington and the District of Columbia all have made similar statements, making clear that health insurers in those states cannot discriminate on the basis of gender identity. The American Medical Association, the American Psychiatric Association, the American Psychological Association, the American Academy of Family Physicians and other national medical organizations all have called for an end to insurance discrimination based on gender identity.

"Denial of healthcare coverage for needed medical treatment is far too common, especially for transgender people," said Owen Daniel-McCarter, Legal Director for the TransLife Center at Chicago House. "Private insurance companies can no longer deny transgender individuals, often through explicit exclusions written into the policies, the medical and mental health care that is routinely provided to non-transgender policy holders. We applaud the state of Illinois for making clear that such denials are a violation of Illinois law."

The bulletin from the Department of Insurance cites three laws that prohibit discrimination against transgender people: the Affordable Care Act, the Illinois Human Rights Act and the Illinois Mental Health Parity Act. The bulletin explains that a plan may not be certified in Illinois (a prerequisite to a plan being marketed and sold in the state) if the plan discriminates against transgender people.

"This guidance helps ensure parity in healthcare coverage, making certain that services such as mental healthcare, cancer screenings and hormone therapy are routinely covered for transgender people when the insurer provides those services to non-transgender policy-holders," said John Peller, Interim President and CEO at the AIDS Foundation of Chicago. "Transgender exclusions have been present in many Illinois health care insurance plans and it’s time for that discrimination to end."

"The lack of access to medically necessary care for transgender people can cause real harm," added John Knight, LGBT Project Director at the ACLU of Illinois. "The AMA, among other prominent medical groups, notes that the failure to provide medically-necessary treatment to transgender people often leads to tragic consequences — including a disproportionate frequency of depression and attempted suicide. The Department's bulletin makes access to these services easier by calling for an end to these discriminatory practices in insurance coverage."

"Up until today, insurance plans often denied coverage for services from the routine to the complex simply on the basis of the individual being transgender," according to Christopher Clark, Counsel for Lambda Legal. "There is simply no justification for these denials. The city and county of San Francisco, for example, have provided comprehensive coverage for transgender employees for many years and have seen no discernible increase in costs."

A limited number of private insurance plans currently remain outside of these non-discriminatory protections. The advocates today called on officials in Illinois to take necessary action to ensure that individuals in the state who are covered under these policies do not suffer harmful discrimination.

The organizations noted that it is up to state agencies like the Illinois Department of Insurance to make the promise of non-discrimination contained in law a reality. The group said that the bulletin issued today is a critical step in that direction.

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Illinois General Assembly Votes to Protect HIV/AIDS and Supportive Housing Services PDF Print
Tuesday, June 03, 2014

Human Service Appropriations Chairs Rep. Greg Harris and Sen. Heather Steans champions of HIV/AIDS funding

SPRINGFIELD — Amid partisan turmoil in the statehouse, the Illinois General Assembly voted in its last days of session in May to increase funding for HIV/AIDS services in the 2015 budget by $1 million. This move comes after weeks of uncertainty about the future of HIV/AIDS funding in the state.

The General Assembly passed House Bill 6096 Amendment 1, which not only boosted direct HIV services, but also increased funding for other social services offered in Illinois. The state supportive housing budget, for example, was increased by $2.6 million to assist an additional 896 people in need. Supportive housing helps low-income people who are homeless and living with chronic diseases, including HIV or behavioral health issues, live successfully in the community.

HIV funding cuts over the last several years have resulted in dramatic decreases in the availability of HIV prevention, housing and supportive services across the state, which threaten the lives of people living with HIV. Tireless advocacy by people living with HIV and their allies averted a $4 million cut to total state HIV spending for services such as prevention and care. The state AIDS Drug Assistance Program (ADAP), which provides life-saving medications to low-income people living with HIV, would have seen devastating cuts. Illinois' ADAP investment enables thousands of people living with HIV to access essential medications that they otherwise could not afford.

"Lifesaving and sustaining programs such as these aren't debatable. They can't be cut because of differing politics or priorities in policies," said Chez Ordoñez, Director of Government Relations at the AIDS Foundation of Chicago (AFC). "This money provides support for those Illinois citizens who are in need of the most help. These drastic cuts should never be political or fiscal priorities — they should always be moral ones."

"While we applaud the increase in HIV/AIDS funding, the General Assembly passed a broken budget that fails to provide stable revenue for lifesaving state programs," continued Ordoñez. "AFC will continue to lead community advocacy to urge elected officials to support sustainable revenue, such as continuing tax rates that were enacted in 2011."

HB 6096 increased HIV funding from $25 million in FY14 to $26 million in FY15. Supportive housing funding increased to $30.4 million and is expected to support services for 12,000 people in the next fiscal year.

"House and Senate Human Services Appropriations Committee chairs Rep. Greg Harris (D-Chicago) and Sen. Heather Steans (D-Chicago) fought to protect the interests of the state's HIV/AIDS community," said John Peller, interim president/CEO of AFC. "We would like to greatly thank them for their advocacy and exemplary leadership. We are also grateful for leadership from members of the House Human Services Appropriations Committee, including State Reps. Sara Feigenholtz (D-Chicago), La Shawn Ford (D-Chicago), Robyn Gabel (D-Evanston), Esther Golar (D-Chicago), Elizabeth Hernandez (D-Cicero), Camille Lilly (D-Chicago) and Rita Mayfield (D-Waukegan)."

 

Media contact: Chez Ordoñez, 312-334-0928, This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it




Illinois governor’s office warns ACA health insurance plans against HIV/AIDS discrimination PDF Print
Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Announcement sets stage for better HIV medication coverage in 2015

 

CHICAGO — In a statement issued on May 23, Illinois Department of Insurance (DOI) Director Andrew Boron informs insurers that the department will not permit health insurance plans that discriminate against people living with HIV/AIDS to be sold on the Illinois Health Insurance Marketplace in 2015.

According to the statement, “prohibition on discrimination applies equally to all health conditions, including but not limited to individuals with HIV/AIDS.”

“Thanks to Governor Pat Quinn and DOI Director Andrew Boron, Illinois is the first state in the nation to issue an explicit prohibition on discrimination against people with HIV in health insurance marketplace plans,” said John Peller, interim president/CEO for AIDS Foundation of Chicago (AFC). “This move serves as the latest example of the ways Governor Quinn has served as a watchdog for people living with HIV.”

AFC and AIDS Legal Council of Chicago (ALCC) received pro bono assistance from law firm Jenner & Block to illustrate possible gaps in coverage for people living with HIV/AIDS in current health plans available through Illinois’ insurance marketplace, which was established by the Affordable Care Act. AFC released a report in March 2014 that revealed the extremely high cost of HIV medications for marketplace plans and indicated that some plans are not covering certain HIV drugs at all.

“Health plans endanger the lives of people with HIV when they deny medications. The DOI’s statement underscores that this practice is discriminatory,” said Thomas D. Yates, executive director for AIDS Legal Council of Chicago.

“This is a major step toward fulfilling the Affordable Care Act's promise to end discrimination by health insurers against people with pre-existing conditions, including HIV/AIDS,” said Daniel A. Johnson, a Jenner & Block associate. Johnson, along with colleagues Christopher C. Dickinson and D. Matthew Feldhaus, formulated a comprehensive report for the DOI addressing insurance companies' positions on HIV/AIDS treatment (available here).

According to Jenner & Block’s report to the DOI, insurance discrimination against people living with HIV/AIDS can come in many forms, including burdensome restrictions on HIV/AIDS drug coverage.

The statement directs insurers to adhere to recommendations by the Department of Health and Human Services on “recommended” and “alternative” drug regimens for HIV/AIDS treatment.

According to the department’s statement, other measures insurance companies can take that might be found to be discriminatory against HIV-positive enrollees include forcing them to use less effective HIV drugs before moving on to more effective drugs (”step therapy”) and requiring an enrollee to seek pre-authorization for every refill of HIV drugs after the insurer has approved the initial filling.

“The Affordable Care Act is built on the concept of equal access to quality medical coverage for all Americans, and that includes people living with HIV/AIDS,” said Peller. “The action by the Department of Insurance is a strong step towards making that concept real. We look forward to working with the department and insurers to make sure people with HIV get the coverage they need to stay healthy on the Illinois Health Insurance Marketplace in 2015.”




HIV medication coverage guide released for Medicaid and other ACA plans PDF Print
Friday, May 16, 2014

To help people with HIV choose Medicaid and Medicare-Medicaid Alignment Initiative HMO plans in Illinois, AIDS Foundation of Chicago (AFC) has collected and published information on HIV medication coverage for each plan. These plans are available for people on Medicaid because they are disabled, on Medicaid and Medicare (“dual-eligible”), or who enrolled through the Affordable Care Act. This document gives examples of what a person with HIV might pay for HIV medications. Click here to review the guide (updated June 13, 2014).

Please note: This document is only a guide. Consult a trained enrollment assister for help in selecting a plan that is appropriate for you and your health needs. AFC’s Navigator Program offers free health care enrollment assistance; you can reach AFC’s navigators at 312-784-9068.

For answers to other questions, please contact Molly McAndrew, program manager, at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it or 312-334-0915.




AIDS Foundation of Chicago to state legislators: don’t cut $4 million from HIV/AIDS services budget PDF Print
Tuesday, May 13, 2014

CHICAGO — AIDS Foundation of Chicago (AFC) and its allies in the public health field arena urge Illinois legislators to prevent major program cuts — including a massive $4 million cut to critical HIV/AIDS services for people in Illinois — by extending a temporary state income tax rate.

This month, Illinois state legislators are faced with the question of whether to make permanent a 5% state income tax rate, which was increased temporarily from 3.75% in 2011. Not doing so would decrease Illinois state revenue by approximately $1.5 billion in 2015, forcing sweeping and devastating cuts to vital services, including access to HIV/AIDS medication, support for mental health and developmental disabilities, housing, senior citizen care and more.

"Cutting $4 million from Illinois' HIV/AIDS services budget means that hundreds of people will lose access to the medications that keeps them alive," said John Peller, interim president/CEO of AFC. "Legislators need to know that without extending the current tax rates, we will most certainly see more people with HIV in the hospital as well as higher rates of new HIV cases in the community."

HIV/AIDS medication support through the AIDS Drug Assistance Program isn't the only essential service that would be cut without this extension — funding for HIV testing, prevention services, linked care programs, and outreach to young people in Illinois (where increases in HIV transmission are highest) would be significantly impacted by the $4 million cut.

If the current tax rates are not extended, state funding for HIV services will be cut from $25 million to nearly $21 million, according to an outline released by Illinois Governor Pat Quinn. That would amount to a nearly 30% funding cut since 2011. Governor Quinn has strongly supported extending current tax rates to avert this and other devastating funding cuts.

"We need supporters of equal access to health care to reach out to their Illinois state representatives and tell them that cutting services to people living with HIV/AIDS is unjust and unnecessary," said Peller.

Read more about cuts faced by health service providers in this document prepared by the Responsible Budget Coalition.




Subject Matter Hearing Testimony Supporting SB2670 (Hepatitis C Screening Bill) PDF Print
Monday, May 05, 2014

Written testimony released April 29, 2014

SB2670 creates the Hepatitis C Screening Act, which provides that individuals born from 1945 to 1965 be offered a hepatitis C test when accessing other health care services.

The AIDS Foundation of Chicago (AFC) testifies in support of SB 2670 — The Hepatitis Screening Bill. We thank Senator John Mulroe along with many advocates and organizations in the health and health disparities fields for their dedicated work on this bill.

AFC fully supports broad screening for the hepatitis C virus (HCV) in populations most likely to be infected. Expanding hepatitis C testing in Illinois moves our state closer to aligning with the national recommendations issued by the U.S. Preventative Services Task Force, as HCV testing is considered critical to early detection and preventing disability.

According to the Institutes of Medicine, 75% of people with chronic hepatitis C are unaware of their status. Additionally, approximately 30% of people living with HIV in the U.S. are co-infected with hepatitis C. HCV is a leading cause of death of individuals who are HIV-positive and disproportionately impacts African Americans and Latinos.

We can turn the tide on these numbers and save lives. The advent of new, highly effective, and well-tolerated treatment options now makes it possible to treat and cure people of this deadly virus. However, we cannot treat people if we do not know that they are carrying the virus, and this is why HCV screening is so important.

There is a recognized connection between HIV and hepatitis C, as the two viruses can be transmitted in the same ways. Infection with one virus indicates a higher possibility that a person also carries the other. When a person is found to have hepatitis C, we have an opportunity to also identify a new case of HIV, since medical providers are well aware of this connection.

The CDC estimates that 20% of people with HIV do not know that they have been infected with the virus. We also know that those unaware of their infection are most likely to unintentionally transmit the virus to others. Because HIV and HCV share modes of transmission, medical providers know to offer an HIV test to a person who tests positive for HCV. Expanding testing of HCV can facilitate increased testing and ultimately treatment and care for both HIV and HCV. Such expansion gives us the unique and critical opportunity to significantly impact not one but two epidemics, saving countless lives as well as public health dollars.

Contact: Chez Ordonez, This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it




Update: AFC on Medicaid plan to address HIV PDF Print
Monday, April 07, 2014
Updated comments from AFC president/CEO on Medicaid plan to address HIV
 
New comments from interim President/CEO John Peller on a new Medicaid plan advanced by Illinois Governor Pat Quinn were released on March 10. This plan will include an HIV-specific provision that will improve care for people living with HIV.
 
This provision was included in response to concerted advocacy by the AIDS Foundation of Chicago (AFC) and its allies, including State Reps. Greg Harris, La Shawn Ford, and Sara Feigenholtz.
 
The provision is included in a proposed 1115 waiver developed by Governor Quinn and his team. The proposal, which must be approved by the federal government, would allow the state to make changes to the Medicaid program. The goal is to obtain additional federal funding for health and social services, improve care coordination, boost the health care workforce, enhance supports for people living in the community, and improve population health.
 
The waiver was open for several rounds of public comments in which 85 organizations submitted nearly a thousand comments or recommendations. AFC previously submitted two sets of comments; a third set released on March 10 can be reviewed here. 
 
 
 
Read more...



Governor Quinn’s Budget Supports Vital HIV/AIDS Services PDF Print
Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Media contact: Edward Wagner                                                         FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Tel. 312-334-0922                                                                  

Email: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

 

Governor Quinn’s Budget Supports Vital HIV/AIDS Services

AFC Applauds Governor Quinn’s Proposed Budget

SPRINGFIELD --Illinois Governor Pat Quinn proposed a $34.4 billion state budget on Wednesday, March 26 that would continue current funding HIV/AIDS services at $25 million for state fiscal year (FY) 2015.

“We applaud Governor Quinn’s budget decision to allocate $25 million for HIV/AIDS services as a targeted investment that will help lower the burden and cost of HIV in Illinois. The Governor’s budget makes the right choices for generations to come,” said John Peller, Interim President/CEO of the AIDS Foundation of Chicago.

Governor Quinn’s proposed funding amount relies on the extension of the state income tax increase that was enacted in 2011. If the income tax increase is not extended by the General Assembly, HIV funding will be cut by $4 million, a 14% cut from FY 14, according to the Governor’s projection. This potential $4 million cut would amount to a 30% funding cut to HIV/AIDS services since FY 11, when total funding was $30.88 million. Governor Quinn has proposed extending the tax increase, which will help sustain critical HIV/AIDS services.

Read more...



Cost of HIV Medications in the Illinois Health Insurance Marketplace PDF Print
Thursday, March 20, 2014

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The Illinois health insurance marketplace open enrollment deadline approaching on Monday, March 31, and it is crucial that people living with HIV/AIDS have complete information to choose a marketplace plan.

Today the AIDS Foundation of Chicago (AFC) is releasing information on HIV medication coverage for each marketplace plan giving examples of what a person with HIV might pay for HIV medications.

If you qualify for the AIDS Drug Assistance Program (ADAP), and choose a plan that is compatible with ADAP, ADAP will cover premiums and any out-of-pocket costs for HIV medications.

AFC’s drug coverage guide shows that without help from the AIDS Drug Assistance Program (ADAP), many people with HIV would be unable to obtain life-saving medications. While two insurance companies have affordable medication co-pays, the remaining four companies feature out-of-pocket costs of as much as $2,000 a month for an HIV medication regimen. ADAP can help people with HIV by covering these out-of-pocket costs.

Finding the right plan that’s compatible with ADAP can be complicated, but our trained navigators can help! You can contact AFC's health insurance navigators at 312-784-9060 ext. 350 for assistance.

With the deadline fast approaching, we encourage you to act fast and seek the help you need to choose the best plan available in the marketplace before the deadline on Monday, March 31.

P.S. Our navigators can help anyone find health insurance, even if they aren’t living with HIV. If you have questions, call us at 312-784-9060 ext. 350.

Download the guide.




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