Commentary: Texas lawmakers' vote creates a 'death panel' for HIV patients

The Fort Worth Star-TelegramApril 3, 2011 

Besides whacking education jobs and trashing university research, the Texas Legislature is considering yet another way to avoid raising even one more precious penny of tax money.

A state Senate subcommittee on Medicaid spending is offering its own final solution:

Let people die.

Our very own death panel voted last week against adding $23 million in lifesaving medications for poor Texans with HIV, essentially turning away the 2,000 new patients who will need help in the next two years.

At a meeting where the Senate Finance Subcommittee on Medicaid restored $4.5 billion for health care, including money for mental-health services and nursing home patients, those 2,000 Texans didn't make the cut.

Senators asked Dr. David Lakey, the state health commissioner, what will happen to new patients.

The Associated Press quoted his reply:

"The natural progression, without any medications, would be that they die."

With help from federal money, the state will continue buying medications for current patients -- about 14,000 Texans earning less than $30,000 a year.

But as more patients lose their jobs and insurance, more Texans will need help.

To you and me, they might be our neighbors or family members.

But to state agency officials forced to rank dire needs, and then to the subcommittee led by state Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, making the final decisions, those Texans were "priority 2."

There's still a chance the money might be restored.

The Associated Press quoted Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst saying vaguely that when the final budget is passed, "lifesaving drugs will be included."

But that wasn't the way the subcommittee voted Thursday. Senators approved the $4.5 billion toward the most important budget items but discarded $2 billion in secondary requests, including the money for new patients.

Lakey's agency has announced a meeting Friday in Austin to discuss how to serve those patients.

Taxpayers actually save about $3,500 a year serving new patients at the state level instead of through county hospitals, according to the Houston Chronicle.

At the AIDS Outreach Center of Tarrant County, Associate Executive Director Shannon Hilgart echoed Lakey's words.

"The folks we see" -- 500 new cases a year -- "don't have the money for medications," she said.

Without state help, she said, "They will die."

But we'll balance the budget.

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