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August 2, 2007

Early Treatment Act Returns to Congress

At a press conference today in Washington, DC, Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) and Congressman Eliot Engel (D-NY) announced they were reintroducing the Early Treatment for HIV Act (ETHA) into the House of Representatives. The act has floated around Capitol Hill for almost a decade with three failed attempts at passage; supporters expressed hope today that bipartisan support would help push it through once and for all.

The bill would change Medicaid laws to make people with HIV eligible for treatment earlier than current standards. “Current law states that in order for someone that is afflicted by HIV/AIDS to be covered under Medicaid, that have to be disabled,” Eddy Acevedo, legislative assistant for congressman Ros-Lehtinen, told POZ. “The point of this law is [to] treat people in the beginning stages of the disease.”

Researchers have repeatedly heralded the merits of early treatment in recent years. A study by Price Waterhouse Coopers showed that the passage of ETHA could reduce the death rate from AIDS by 50 percent over a 10-year period.

Ronald Johnson, Deputy Executive Director of DC-based AIDS Action said that upfront costs of the bill have been a key barrier to its passage but emphasized the long-term savings. ETHA would allow states to extend Medicaid coverage to low income HIV-positive people before they receive an AIDS diagnosis, which costs a lot less than treating people once they’re sick.

But perhaps more importantly, the bill will save countless lives, Johnson said in an interview directly following the press conference.  “It’s almost obscene to put a dollar value on what that means,” he said.

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