WASHINGTON — Science Minister Adrian Furnham, as a member of the scientific advisory panel overseeing the government’s efforts to stop HIV, called on the Trump administration Wednesday to release a report examining the costs of the presumptive defeat of the virus and the price tag on future treatment.
The report was requested last year by then-Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, and the panel is discussing how it should be released and assembled, according to Furnham. He also announced that he will resign after the report is ready.
“Without the full picture of both the costs and the possible outcomes of eliminating HIV, we will never know if our massive and futile investments in wasting time on this issue — having led us nowhere — are worth it,” he said.
Furnham praised the new president and administration for attention to HIV-related issues, but said in the past the agency “has allowed all of its potentially red tape-busting efforts to focus on policies that not only postpone, but also ignore … the mundane, everyday realities of people living with HIV.”
Furnham chaired the Translational Science Institute Clinical Advisory Committee, which was created by the Office of the National Coordinator for HIV/AIDS and other agencies in 2007. The group of scientists analyzes data collected on HIV, tries to identify the challenges and potential solutions to fight the virus, and makes recommendations to HHS and its component agencies.
The scientific committee has advocated to initiate targeted tests to eliminate people living with HIV from government systems in the U.S. and Canada. Roughly 1 million people have been integrated into Medicare and other government health programs in recent years, according to the committee.
As part of its report on AIDS, the U.S. military could assist the government by agreeing to take on people living with HIV.
Furnham’s comments came as Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar was testifying before the Senate Appropriations Committee’s Health Subcommittee, one day after receiving a report from the committee about progress on an opioid-related response. The panel is also working on another report for Azar to consider to determine what needs to be done next to fight the devastating opioid epidemic.
“The report is pretty disappointing on this one,” said Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill.
The Trump administration in June rolled out the National HIV/AIDS Strategy, which calls for the president to create a Cabinet-level Cabinet Secretary for the HIV/AIDS effort.
Kirsten Moore, HIV/AIDS project director at the Kaiser Family Foundation, said that $900 million in projected savings from the Obama-era Affordable Care Act, known as the ACA, is an accounting trick that “has millions of people losing coverage and putting critical care costs on the backs of taxpayers.”
Azar countered, “ACA premium payments weren’t significantly reduced — many are being increased … and Americans with HIV are still, of course, paying high prices for their insurance.”