ACT UP Op-ed in Philly Gay News

Published in the Philly Gay News on Friday, Dec. 18

An open letter to Sen. Specter

Dear Sen. Arlen Specter:

In your long career in the Senate, ACT UP has brought you many gifts. Remember when we brought you a spine, asking you to stand up for people with HIV? We thought this open letter would be another nice way to remind you to keep standing up to improve healthcare, expand HIV prevention, fully fund global AIDS programs and say thanks for what you’ve done so far.

Right now, the Senate is considering healthcare reform, and you have come out in favor of a robust public option — a critical measure to address health inequalities and ensure that all people have access to health insurance and can afford basic care.

A public option is particularly meaningful for people living with HIV/AIDS. HIV is a disease that is driven by social and economic injustice and stigma. For people living with HIV/AIDS, Medicaid and Medicare are lifesaving programs that help ensure affordable access to care, but people must often wait until they’re too sick to access these programs. A public plan would mean everyone had access to HIV care and general healthcare before getting “sick enough.”

Additionally, given the discriminatory nature of private insurance companies, many people forego HIV testing in fear that they’ll be dropped from their private insurance plan. Congress must strike down all preexisting-conditions clauses in insurance plans, and they should mandate that all insurance programs cover routine testing for HIV. More than 20 percent of individuals in the U.S. infected with HIV are unaware of their infection; early diagnosis of HIV is critical to effective treatment and prevention.

As a moderate Democrat, we need you to do more than support the public option. Your colleagues, Sens. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) and Ben Nelson (D-Neb.), are holding up lifesaving healthcare reform because of their opposition to the public option. We cannot afford, in money or health, to let for-profit insurance companies continue to run our healthcare.

In addition to your support of healthcare reform, on Sunday you joined with your colleagues to pass the 2010 Appropriations Bill. For the first time in a decade, this bill allowed federal funding of syringe exchange. Your support of this important HIV and hepatitis-C prevention intervention was critical to ending the federal ban and ensuring HIV infections decline. Thank you for your support.

Now that federal funding of syringe exchange is an option, we need your help again. You sit on the Appropriations Committee, which means you can help ensure HIV-prevention programs are fully funded.

You have been a key champion in the fight against global AIDS as well. You have fought for increased funding of global AIDS programs, especially those dedicated to the training and retention of health professionals in Africa. Unfortunately, global AIDS programs have not received sufficient increases in funding, and waiting lists for AIDS medications are growing in developing countries. The world finally was starting to make progress in fighting AIDS, and ACT UP is looking to you to continue your leadership in global AIDS and fight for $9.25 billion for global AIDS programs in 2011.

Sen. Specter, you’ve done well these past few years. But, as you head into an election year, we call on you to continue to show that you are truly committed to advancing the needs of people with HIV/AIDS in Pennsylvania, the United States and around the world.

— ACT UP Philadelphia

ACT UP Philadelphia is an activist organization led by and for people living with HIV/AIDS. The group meets every Monday at 6 p.m. at The Church of St. Luke and The Epiphany, 330 S. 13th St. Visit for more information.