Deceptive AIDS Funding Bill Flunks Fairness Test

January 01, 1996  ·  Michael Fumento  ·  Aids

Grab your wallet, folks! The Senate is about to demonstrate its boundless compassion again by spending billions of your dollars. But this time it won’t just be unfair to taxpayers but to the great majority of Americans suffering from serious diseases.

The subject of this latest act of largesse is the cynically named Ryan White Act, which is up for reauthorization. With 58 co-sponsors, its Senate approval is virtually guaranteed, though for the moment its passage is blocked by North Carolina Republican Jesse Helms.

Enacted in 1990, ostensibly to provide care for such victims as White, the Act was a sham from the start. Young Ryan White was a hemophiliac who won the heart of the nation after he contracted AIDS. He died at age 18. But only two percent of AIDS victims in 1990 were hemophiliacs, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Today it’s one percent. Less than two percent of AIDS victims are under the age of 20.

One wonders how the bill would have fared had it been named the Robert Mapplethorpe Act, after the late homosexual photographer famous for such depictions as bullwhips extending from people’s posteriors. The Ryan White Act was also sold as a means of helping, as National Commission on AIDS Chairman June Osborne put it, the "many parts of rural America [that] are about to be blind-sided by the epidemic." Yet then, as now, cases from non-metropolitan areas amounted to all of five percent of those reported.

Predictably, almost all of the money went to those places which had the most AIDS cases. This means not Ryan White’s town of Cicero, Indiana but rather New York City, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and other areas that also happened to be Democratic strongholds. In other words, it followed the same supply lines as all the Democratic pork of that era. The money went for those who make up the bulk of AIDS victims: homosexual men and intravenous drug abusers.

Further, even on a per-patient level, the bill resulted in allocating several times more money per victim in larger cities than in less-populated areas.

Misnaming and misrepresenting the Act has paid handsomely. In its first five years, spending more than doubled from $276 million in 1991 to $664 million for this year, for a total of over $2 billion.

This time around, the bill is sponsored by Kansas Republican Nancy Kassebaum. When I called her office her aide cited — yes — the rural AIDS bogeyman. One wonders if the good senator knows that Kansas had all of 245 AIDS cases last year, just three percent of the national total. Of those, eight were children.

In fairness, Kassebaum has rewritten the Act so that more money will be authorized for rural areas. But with so few patients there, the money must necessarily flow right back through the old pork pipeline established in 1990. The biggest difference this time is that the estimated cost will balloon from slightly over $2 billion to $3.6 billion. This even though the AIDS epidemic is declining. New AIDS cases are being reported at a rate well below the 80,000 of last year.

Yet even if the bill weren’t such a budget-buster, it would be terribly wrong.

Ryan White:
Good kid, bad legislation.

Ryan White provides no money for medical research so no one will ever be cured of AIDS with all those billions of spending. Along with some allocations for education that are redundant with the $500 million federal AIDS education budget, the Ryan White Act simply provides money for treatment, drugs, free meals, in-home care, and the like.

It’s nice that sick people can get such services regardless of their income levels. But for anybody with any disease besides AIDS the sign on the door reads "Go away!" There is no Gilda Radner Act for victims of ovarian cancer, no Ronald Reagan Act for Alzheimer’s disease patients. Some elderly and indigent people with such diseases can qualify for programs like Medicare and Medicaid, but then so can AIDS patients.

No, the Ryan White Act was a gift to one extremely squeaky wheel. Not content with a medical research budget that dwarfs that of every other disease but cancer — despite being only the 9th-greatest killer of Americans — the AIDS activists demanded and got privileges that persons with other diseases can’t even dream about.

No Kassebaum Komment

Quite simply, the homosexual activists want special treatment because they themselves, and their friends, have an extraordinary chance of contracting the disease. Somehow they have translated "Gimme! Gimme! Gimme!" into a cry for compassion. Long gone are the days when AIDS activists begged merely to be treated no worse than the victims of diseases not associated with behaviors society finds distasteful.

I called the offices of both Kassebaum and the other Kansas Senator, Bob Dole, for a statement about the fairness issue. Wonder of wonders, I got none. To a Congress always eager to take money from all of us and give it to some of us to buy votes, fairness is a four-letter word. And while several Senators claim that as president they would be tough enough to deal with America’s foreign adversaries, when it comes to AIDS activists they go crawling for the deepest foxhole.