An estimated 100,000 people with hepatitis C in Massachusetts
Joe Carleo, executive director of the AIDS support group on Cape Cod said his organization is responding to the "exploding epidemic" of hepatitis C. "Funding is absolutely critical to us," he said. "Level funding is better than a cut, but it is essentially a cut."
That growing epidemic of hepatitis C, particularly among baby boomers, has AIDS activists urging lawmakers to boost funding for testing. There are an estimated 100,000 people with hepatitis C in Massachusetts and others who could be living with the disease without symptoms yet, according to AIDS activists who were at the State House Thursday to urge lawmakers to increase funding for hepatitis C screening and AIDS support programs.
Communities of color are disproportionately affected
The Centers for Disease Control has recommended testing for Hepatitis C for anyone born between 1945 and 1965, according to Project Able, a coalition of agencies that works with those infected with HIV/AIDS. "Baby boomers didn't understand hepatitis C was being transmitted," said Mary Ann Hart, a coordinator at Project Able. The viral disease, which leads to an inflammation of the liver, can be transmitted through blood transfusions and intravenous drug use.
While the number of new HIV/AIDS infections is down in Massachusetts, activists say they are concerned there is not enough money to keep up education and prevention efforts. There are approximately 500 new infections each year in the state. "But communities of color are disproportionately affected," Hart said. In the budget he presented Wednesday, Gov. Deval Patrick proposed that funding remain the same as last year at $32.1 million.
Those who work with people with HIV/AIDS are looking for an additional $4 million. Since 2011, AIDS programs have been cut by $5.5 million in state and federal funds, Hart said. The cuts have hurt access to testing and counseling services for low-income people, reduced prevention and education services, and hampered those with the disease from living independently.
Primary source of care for lower-income students to lose $300,000
School health centers that act as the primary source of care for many lower-income students stand to lose $300,000 in Gov. Deval Patrick's fiscal 2014 budget. The budget was unveiled Wednesday as nurses and health care professionals gathered at the State House to make their case to maintain funding for the medical care in schools.
There are 37 school-based health centers around the state, funded and licensed by the Department of Public Health, along with a handful of others that are federally funded. The centers are located mostly in rural and urban school districts and handle a range of medical care, including sick visits, immunizations, management of chronic illnesses, physicals, pregnancy prevention counseling, and mental health services, according to nurses.
Allison Kilcoyne, a nurse who works in Lynn, said many high school students she treats do not receive any other health care. Often, their parents are unable to take time off from work to get them to doctor appointments, she said. "Funding is always, always an issue. It is an issue with all programs, but I think for this program in particular I feel like we are really impacting the lives of children. And we are keeping them well, and keeping them in school. It is essential that we are level-funded," Kilcoyne said.
$12.7 million for 2014, down from $13.1 million in 2013
The governor's budget recommended $12.7 million for fiscal year 2014, down from almost $13.1 million in 2013. The school health care centers are also expected to take a cut in federal funding from $153,638 to $138,307 in next year's budget. Nancy Carpenter, executive director of the Massachusetts Association of School-based Health Care, said her organization was working to get the school centers "the recognition they deserve."
The centers help students avoid unnecessary hospital visits, and the demand for their services grows every year, she said. Sen. Richard Moore, a Democrat from Uxbridge, told the group that school-based health care centers further the state's goal of reducing health care costs. "We need more of them," he said. During the upcoming budget debate, Moore said state officials need to "recognize our emphasis in health care has got to be on prevention and wellness."