Whitman-Walker Health on April 17 will honor former White House AIDS czar Jeff Crowley at its annual spring benefit at the National Museum of Women in the Arts in Northwest D.C.
“I’ve had a chance to reflect on this great experience I had and then just to be recognized for my work by Whitman-Walker I think is really special,” Crowley told the Washington Blade during an interview on March 31.
Crowley, who was the director of the Office of National AIDS Policy at the White House from February 2009 until December 2011, spoke with the Blade hours before the deadline for Americans to sign-up for health insurance through the Affordable Care Act that President Obama signed into law in 2010.
Crowley described the Affordable Care Act as a “structural intervention that will make it easier to get” people with HIV onto care and keep them in treatment. He further noted Obama signed the law less than four months before the White House released the first national HIV/AIDS strategy.
“I’ve also said there’s no way I could have imagined a transition that didn’t have bumps along the way,” said Crowley, referring to glitches with the Affordable Care Act website and other enrollment-related concerns. “Over time those things will work themselves out. The ACA really creates an opportunity for us to make a lot of progress.”
Crowley acknowledged undocumented immigrants are unable to apply for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act. He also said those with HIV below the poverty level who live in states that did not expand Medicaid may not be able to afford coverage because they cannot access marketplace subsidies.
“We have these ongoing challenges,” Crowley told the Blade.
The Ryan White Comprehensive AIDS Resource Emergency Act remains available to assist uninsured people with HIV and those who are underinsured. The program can also supplement and help reduce drug costs for those living with the virus.
The AIDS Drug Assistance Program under the Affordable Care Act will also be able to cover drugs that Medicaid, Medicare or private insurance will not cover.
“There are issues of the affordability because some of drugs may not be covered and then the co-payments might be too high,” said Crowley. “There’s a lot of advocacy going on right now with some of the HIV advocates in some cases state-by-state with the local advocates to really educate these plans to improve their formulary policy so they don’t put all the drugs in the highest level.”
Crowley, who is the program director of the National HIV/AIDS Initiative at Georgetown University’s O’Neill Institute, also applauded D.C.’s response to the epidemic.
He specifically noted the “test to treat” approach to combating the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the nation’s capital and the D.C. Department of Health’s HIV/AIDS, Hepatitis, STD and Tuberculosis Administration (HAHSTA)’s work with local HIV/AIDS service organizations to use a surveillance model to reconnect people with the virus who have stopped treatment to care.
“I’m actually really, really proud of the District,” said Crowley. “In the past they weren’t necessarily the leader on a lot of fronts.”
Crowley, who is a Whitman-Walker client, taught high school science in Swaziland from 1988-1991 when he was a member of the U.S. Peace Corps. He also held various positions with the now defunct-National Association of People with AIDS from 1994 through 2000.
Crowley described the organization’s 2013 bankruptcy as “sad.”
“It’s really important for people living with HIV to have a voice,” Crowley told the Blade. “There’s still a need to be a voice for people with HIV and we’re going to have to look at different mechanisms.”