updated 5/19/2004 2:26:48 PM ET 2004-05-19T18:26:48

Patients with HIV or AIDS get widely varying government aid for prescription drugs depending on where they live, according to a study released Wednesday.

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In North Carolina, people who earn more than $11,000 a year do not qualify for the state’s AIDS drug assistance program, said the annual report, released by the Kaiser Family Foundation and state AIDS directors. In Delaware, Massachusetts, New Jersey and New York, income limits are at least four times as high.

In addition, North Carolina and another dozen states have imposed measures to contain costs that range from capping program enrollment to reducing the number of drugs offered.

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates 850,000 to 950,000 Americans have AIDS or HIV, the virus that causes the disease, and some 40,000 more are infected each year.

Many in need
AIDS drug assistance plans are the last resort for many patients with limited or no prescription drug coverage. The plans served 136,000 people last year, a 10 percent jump over 2002, the report said.

Most are poor and minorities. Nearly 80 percent are men and 60 percent are between the ages of 25 and 44, the report said.

Only about three in 10 patients who are being treated for HIV have private insurance. Nearly half of U.S. AIDS patients rely on Medicaid, the health insurance program for the poor. Some have Medicare, and about 20 percent have no health insurance at all.

The Institute of Medicine recently recommended that the federal government pick up more of the medical tab for low-income Americans because shortfalls in state budgets and confusing eligibility standards leave thousands of people with HIV with inadequate treatment.

Jennifer Kates, Kaiser’s director for HIV policy, said budget pressures are causing “an upswing in the number of states looking at and instituting cost-containment measures.”

The number of people on waiting lists for the state programs has gone up in recent months, Kates said

Still, Kates said, the study shows that many states are finding creative ways to provide drugs to HIV/AIDS patients. For example, 24 states are using AIDS drug assistance money to purchase health insurance coverage or carry forward the temporary COBRA insurance people can obtain when they leave a job.

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