November 9, 2010

November 9, 2010
Treatment Costs on the Rise

Welcome to another day in my life. Today is Tuesday and I hope you are having a safe and great week so far.

Yesterday, I had a dentist appointment at Nova University Dental Clinic. It is great seeing my dentist as always. He is such a great guy. The only problem is I am still getting over a cold and it is hard for me to breathe. So we had to talk about which of my teeth they were going to work on so they would not have to use another one of those dental wraps which restrict my breathing. Luckily, he was very understanding about this issue and my claustrophobia.

Today, I have a leadership board meeting at FUSION. It will be great to see everyone since I have missed the past couple of events because of my cold and conflicting speaking engagements. We are still working in conjunction with the Department of Health to devise a new HIV/AIDS and STD prevention campaign for MSMs.

After the meeting, I have to make an appearance at the Manor for a fund raiser called Jeans for Life. The event is a fund raiser for Out of the Closet and AHF. I was honored to be asked to donate a pair of jeans which will be auctioned off at the event. Dab the AIDS Bear and I have been asked to make an appearance and speak at the event.

I did come across some bad news concerning HIV/AIDS funding. Additional treatment costs arising from expanded HIV screening in US will place further pressure on Ryan White funding.

Expanded HIV screening programs in the US will place additional pressure on Ryan White federal funding for HIV care as more people are diagnosed with HIV, according to a study published in the online edition of Value in Health.

Expanded testing is likely to identify more people with HIV in need of treatment. Treatment costs will mainly fall on discretionary programs whose funding is set annually by Congress. The investigators express concern that this “may result in large numbers of individuals learning that they are HIV infected but unable to receive care.”

It is estimated that 21% of the 1.1 million HIV positive individuals in the US are unaware of their infection.

Undiagnosed individuals typically only learn that they have HIV when they are extremely ill with the virus, and this not only increases the risk of death but also has considerable cost implications. Moreover, some studies suggest that undiagnosed individuals are responsible for a large number of onward HIV transmissions.

In 2006 the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued revised guidance on HIV testing. This included a recommendation for routine HIV testing in all health care settings for the general population and annual HIV tests for those in high risk groups.

The CDC calculated that this expansion of HIV testing would be cost effective.

However, a team of investigators were concerned that the impact on government budgets was unclear. They especially wanted to see what the implications would be for discretionary HIV treatment programs, whose fixed budgets are set annually.

There are a number of sources of public funding for HIV care in the US. These include the entitlement programs Medicaid and MediCare. These provide free health care to the “disabled” and the elderly. There is also the discretionary Ryan White HIV/AIDS Program. This provides a safety net for those who neither qualify for the eligibility programs, nor have adequate private insurance

Treatment and care costs for ex-military personnel are met by the Department of Veterans Affairs, and others have adequate private medical insurance. The investigators did not examine the likely cost implications of earlier HIV diagnosis for these care providers.

The investigators’ model was based on 2008 HIV surveillance data. This showed that there were 1.1 million HIV positive individuals in the US, but that 189,000 of these were unaware of their status. Annual HIV incidence was assumed to be 46,000.

Data concerning the health and CD4 cell count of prevalent cases of HIV were extrapolated from surveillance cohorts.

Costs were assumed to include the testing of individuals whose results were HIV-negative and those who were positive, with the latter group requiring post-test counseling. Currently 97% of individuals return for their HIV test result, and 80% of those testing positive are linked to care. This pattern of behavior was included in the model. Drug costs were calculated using published wholesale costs. These were adjusted for average state reimbursement rates and discounts.

It was estimated that individuals currently have an HIV test every ten years. The model assumed that expanded testing would mean that individuals would now be tested every five years.

The model suggested that if average testing frequency remained once every ten years, then there would be 177,000 new HIV diagnoses between 2009 and 2013. This figure included 116,000 individuals with undiagnosed HIV and 61,000 newly infected with the virus.

After diagnosis, 68% of those diagnosed late and 49% of individuals with incident infections were expected to progress to AIDS.

Increasing the frequency of testing to once every five years would lead to an additional 46,000 new diagnoses. But earlier detection of HIV would lead to a fall in the number of those who progressed to AIDS.

Continued testing at the current rate was estimated to cost $83.7 billion over five years. Expanded testing and increases in the number of diagnosed patients would increase this to $86.4 billion.

Only 18% of this additional cost ($502 million) was attributed to screening programs. The rest was taken up by treatment and care.

The investigators projected that the cost to discretionary programs would increase by $2.9 billion (from $26 billion to $28.9 billion). However, because there would be a fall in the number of patients progressing to AIDS, costs to entitlement programs would fall by $280 million.

This meant that then an additional $2.7 billion would be needed for screening and treatment programs, with most falling on discretionary treatment programs.

“If expanded screenings were implemented consistent with CDC guidelines, the policy may not be feasible without additional funds from state and local governments”, comment the authors. The cost burden “will fall disproportionately on discretionary programs, because people identified will be less likely to be immediately eligible for entitlement programs.”

Just another reason for all of us to be contacting our elected officials in Washington DC and our state capitals.

Until we meet again; here's wishing you health, hope, happiness and just enough.

big bear hug,

Daddy Dab