Low-income D.C. residents with AIDS may now be eligible to receive help to pay for treatment with the drug AZT, District officials announced yesterday.
As a part of a $30 million federal appropriation to states to assist AIDS patients who cannot afford the drug, the District received $536,000 that will be used to cover the total or in some cases partial expense of the treatment.
"This new funding represents a major step in the District's fight against AIDS," Public Health Commissioner Reed V. Tuckson said at a news conference. "It will go a long way in providing much needed financial assistance to people who suffer from AIDS and advanced ARC (AIDS-related complex) and cannot afford the high cost of AZT."
However, Dr. Peter Hawley, the medical director of Washington's Whitman-Walker Clinic, which diagnoses and counsels patients with acquired immune deficiency syndrome and ARC, expressed doubt that the money would meet the needs of District residents prescribed to receive AZT treatment.
Hawley said the funds are "only a drop in the bucket."
Azidothymidine, or AZT, is the only AIDS drug that the Food and Drug Administration has allowed doctors to prescribe for patients with the disease or ARC. The drug is not a cure for AIDS but is said to prolong survival and make patients' lives a little more comfortable.
Burroughs Wellcome, the company that sells AZT, charges about $10,000 a year per patient.
Under criteria established to distribute the funds, District residents who have AIDS or ARC and whose doctors have prescribed AZT can receive the drug at no cost if their annual earnings are less than $11,000, if their health insurance includes coverage for AZT, and if they are not eligible to receive Medicaid.
Applicants who earn between $11,000 and about $21,000 annually are eligible to receive partial funding for the drug, according to the criteria.
M. Jerome Woods, acting director of the D.C. Department of Human Services, said an AIDS patient receiving AZT treatment spends about $830 each month on the drug, "a very high cost that makes their very difficult situation even more problematic."
District officials said that in the past four years, 789 District residents have been diagnosed as having AIDS, and that 454 of them have died. They said they expect between 500 and 600 new AIDS cases to be diagnosed in the District by the end of next year.
State health department officials in Maryland and Virginia said they are working to establish criteria for the federal grants. Maryland has received $400,000 in federal funds, and Virignia has received $434,454, state health department officials said.
Andy Farmer, a spokesman for the Virginia Department of Health, said more than half of the state's AIDS cases are in the City of Alexandria and Arlington and Fairfax counties. Dr. G.A. van Blerk, director of AIDS administration for the Maryland Department of Health, said most of Maryland's AIDS cases are in Baltimore, and in Montgomery and Prince George's counties. He said the federal money will be distributed by need, not jurisdiction.
Tuckson would not predict how many District residents the federal money would help, or how quickly funds would be disbursed. He said Washington ranks fifth in the nation in its number of AIDS cases, but emphasized that it is impossible to determine how many of those patients fit into a low-income category, and are not able to receive AZT treatment through Medicaid or private health insurance.