Hillary Clinton made a number of promises to advance the fight against HIV and offered critiques of some of the current responses in that fight during a May 12 meeting with leading AIDS groups.
“I won’t make promises that I can’t keep,” Clinton told roughly 20 representatives from AIDS and LGBT groups near the start of the hour-long meeting at her campaign’s Brooklyn headquarters. “I will do everything I can to achieve an AIDS-free generation. We will work with you to lay out a path to do this.”
The quotes are from notes made by Charles King, the chief executive of Housing Works, an AIDS group. The notes were shared with Gay City News on the condition that the paper not identify the person who provided them. The notes both quote and paraphrase people who spoke in the meeting.
Activists sought and won Clinton’s support for a national plan to end AIDS that will treat HIV-positive people so they are no longer infectious and use some of those same drugs in HIV-negative people to keep them uninfected. The plan also increases housing and other services for HIV-positive people. Activists have set a target “getting below 12,000 new infections in 2025,” according to the notes. In 2014, just over 44,000 people were first diagnosed with HIV in the US.
Dr. Melanie Thompson, the founder and principal investigator at the AIDS Research Consortium of Atlanta, asked Clinton to commit to “increasing both the HIV/ AIDS research budget, and that of NIH overall, by 10-15 percent per year for the next eight years.”
“We are going to work to see how far we can go,” Clinton said of funding for the federal National Institutes of Health. “We need to expand Medicaid coverage. Otherwise we will be hard pressed to achieve these goals. We will go through and prioritize your ask. I am all on board for increasing NIH funds.”
Activists were particularly concerned with new HIV infections in the South. The view is that the higher rates of new HIV infections there are due, in part, to a lack of affordable healthcare. The 2010 Affordable Care Act, commonly known as Obamacare, offered incentives to states to expand eligibility for Medicaid, the government health insurance plan for low income people, but some states, many but not all in the South, have declined.
King wrote that Clinton “calls out” those states that did not expand Medicaid funding saying it was a “national shame.” Those states are “recalcitrant and obstructionist,” King quoted Clinton saying.
“We must incentivize and force states to expand Medicaid,” Clinton said. “I am defending the Affordable Care Act because I believe it would be a grave error to start over. But I am also proposing ways to improve it.”
The former secretary of state and US senator from New York would also go after drug prices, which can significantly increase the cost of care. She would “stop predatory pricing,” in particular when a company buys a drug it did not develop and increases the price.
“We are going to tackle that,” she said. “We are also going to get control on the price paid by Medicare and Medicaid. We are going to expand their negotiating power.”
Activists also asked for a $2 billion increase in funding the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), which is currently funded at $6.8 billion. That federal legislation addresses AIDS around the globe and claims to have supplied 9.5 million people with anti-retroviral (ARV) drugs, among a number of achievements.
“I am a staunch supporter of PEPFAR.” Clinton said. “We tripled the number of people on ARVs in four years. This was partly due to my husband’s contracts reducing the cost of drugs.”
The Clinton Foundation, which was founded by former President Bill Clinton, funds anti-HIV programs around the globe.
But Secretary Clinton cautioned that some governments that received PEPFAR cash simply substituted that cash for money they had been spending on healthcare and diverted those dollars to other needs, such as building roads.
“We need to get as much resources as we can, use those resources effectively, and hold governments’ feet to the fire,” King quoted Clinton saying. “We need to hold the governments accountable just like we need to hold Alabama accountable.”
Noting the President Barack Obama was “equally sympathetic” to the activists’ demands, Clinton said that the Republican-controlled Congress has been and remains an obstacle to increasing PEPFAR funding.
“We will set out a plan, but we will need help to overcome efforts by Republicans to cut back on AIDS funding,” she said. “We will continue to support the Global Fund. We will set ambitious goals.”
Clinton closed the meeting by thanking the activists and said that John Podesta, the chair of her presidential campaign, would follow up to “build a realistic, achievable, and bold plan,” the notes said.
“I want to thank all of you,” Clinton said. “If it were not for your voices [over the years] we would be facing even more challenging terrain. We have to move forward on all fronts.”
The AIDS groups have also requested a meeting with Democrat Bernie Sanders, the US senator from Vermont, and Donald Trump, the reality TV celebrity who has effectively won the Republican nomination for president.