Sanders expressed confusion about Clinton’s comments on Sunday during an interview on CNN’s “State of the Union” in which he said, “I just don’t know what she was talking about.”
“In fact, that was a very tragic moment in modern American history,” Sanders continued. “There were many, many people who were dying of AIDS and, in fact, there was demand all over this country for President Reagan to start talking about this terrible tragedy, and yet he refused to talk about it while the AIDS epidemic was sweeping this country, so I’m not quite sure where Secretary Clinton got her information.”
Sanders added he’s “glad” Clinton apologized for saying President Reagan and Nancy Reagan started a “national conversation” on HIV/AIDS. They instead, Sanders said, “refused to allow that discussion to take place.”
“They didn’t get involved in it while so many fellow Americans were getting sick and dying,” Sanders said.
Watch Sanders’s comments here (begins at 7:55)
On Friday, Clinton said on MSNBC during Nancy Reagan’s funeral in California the late first lady and President Reagan started a “national conversation” on HIV/AIDS — a recollection deemed untrue and offensive to who remember the height of the epidemic. Within hours, Clinton apologized on Twitter, saying she “misspoke.” The next day, the candidate published an op-ed saying she “made a mistake” and renewing her call for an “AIDS-free generation.” However, Clinton hasn’t explained why she made the remarks in the first place.
On the same day Sanders during the CNN interview rejected Clinton’s initial remarks, the Sanders campaign made public a plan to confront HIV/AIDS, which afflicts an estimated 1.2 million in the United States.
“One of the great moral issues of our day is that people with HIV and AIDS are suffering and, in some cases, dying in America because they can’t afford to pay the outrageous prices being charged for the medicine they need to live,” Sanders said in a statement. “We must do everything possible to end the greed of the pharmaceutical companies and get people the medicine they need at a price they can afford.”
The multi-pronged plan would, according to his campaign, include “virtually universal access” to low cost AIDS medications as soon as they’re approved for sale and a push for legislation to bar discrimination against LGBT people and people with HIV/AIDS. But, as outlined by the campaign, the plan has many components:
Sanders’ proposal would provide virtually universal access to lower-cost lifesaving medicines for HIV/AIDS as soon as they are approved for sale. As president, he would create a $3 billion a year prize fund to incentivize drug development. Instead of a system where the market is manipulated to keep out all competition, companies would be rewarded with a cash prize for medical innovations and patients would have access to all treatments at generic prices. This proposal would also be much cheaper than the current system, reducing the costs of drugs to employers, taxpayers and patients by billions of dollars per year.
Sanders would also direct the secretary of Health and Human Services to negotiate drug prices with pharmaceutical companies and reduce barriers to the importation of lower-cost drugs from Canada and other countries.
Globally, Sanders would fight to end the AIDS epidemic by expanding the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief and doubling the number of people on HIV treatment worldwide by 2020.
A major reason why Sanders is leading the fight against the disastrous Trans-Pacific Partnership is because it would significantly increase prices for HIV/AIDS drugs for some of the most desperate people in the world. More than half of AIDS patients in Vietnam alone could lose access to their medications, according to Oxfam.
In addition to lowering drug prices, Sanders would significantly expand access to mental health and substance use disorder services by protecting and expanding community health centers. Sanders would ensure that all substance abuse treatment centers provide on-site HIV/AIDS testing and that federal agencies, state and local health departments, and mental health agencies have the resources to provide screening and referral services for individuals living with HIV/AIDS and who are at risk for HIV.
Sanders would also push for legislation to expand civil rights protections to all LGBTQ individuals and those living with HIV/AIDS.
“In the year 2016, it is unacceptable that a person can be fired or denied housing in many states based on sexual orientation, gender identity or health status,” Sanders said. “We have come a long way since our political leaders refused to recognize the thousands of people dying at the height of the AIDS epidemic. We must finish the fight by providing everyone living with HIV access to affordable drugs, by passing legislation to protect against discrimination and by expanding support and prevention services.”
Carl Schmid, deputy director of the AIDS Institute, was unimpressed with Sanders’ HIV/AIDS plan, calling it unrealistic after he had previously praised Clinton for her plan to achieve an “AIDS-free generation.”
“While we greatly appreciate Sen. Sanders’ past and current support in the fight against AIDS, and many elements of this platform, we do not believe his approach to providing innovative medications is meritorious or realistic,” Schmid said.
Schmid declined to elaborate on what makes Sanders’ plan lack merit or realism.
In the plan that Clinton articulated to achieve an “AIDS-free generation” the day after her gaffe, she came out against state HIV criminalization laws penalizing perceived transfer of the disease. Although his plan doesn’t address them, a Sanders spokesperson said he’s “absolutely opposed” to those laws.
Sanders has previously taken action on behalf of HIV/AIDS over the course of his campaign when he denounced Turing Pharmaceuticals CEO Martin Shkreli for raising the price of AIDS drug Daraprim from $13.50 to $750 per tablet. The candidate rejected Shkreli’s $2,000 donation and gave it to the Whitman-Walker Clinic in D.C.