President Barack Obama Takes Major Steps for People with HIV and AIDS

by HRC Staff

Signs reauthorization of Ryan White CARE Act, announces end of HIV Travel and Immigration Ban.

Washington- The Human Rights Campaign, the nation's largest lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) civil rights organization, praised President Barack Obama today for taking two major steps on behalf of people living with HIV and AIDS. First, he signed into law a bill extending the Ryan White HIV/AIDS Treatment Extension Act, reauthorizing for another four years the critical programs that have helped provide care for more than half a million low-income people living with HIV and AIDS. Second, he announced the final regulation reversing our nation's prohibition on HIV-positive people entering the country for travel or immigration. The repeal will take effect on Jan. 4, 2010.

"We thank the President for taking these tremendous steps today on behalf of people with HIV and AIDS," said Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese. "Today's actions signal both to Americans and to the world that the United States is a nation that will care for those most in need at home and will no longer close the door to HIV-positive people abroad. Today, President Obama has extended one of our nation's proudest responses to the HIV/AIDS epidemic and finally erased on our of most shameful."

For nearly twenty years, the Ryan White CARE Act has served those most in need, acting as a payer of last resort in the gaps left by Medicaid, Medicare and other public health insurance programs. This legislation has been a tremendous success, with more than half a million people having been served by CARE Act programs to date. HRC has lobbied on behalf of the Ryan White program since its inception and will continue to press Congress to address to the ongoing HIV/AIDS epidemic with the strongest possible federal response.

The ban on HIV-positive visitors and immigrants was adopted through regulation over twenty years ago and codified by Congress in 1993. Under that ban, HIV-positive foreign nationals were unable to enter the U.S. unless they obtained a special waiver, which was difficult to obtain and only allowed for short-term travel, and the vast majority were unable to obtain legal permanent residency. In July 2008, President Bush signed into law, as part of the reauthorization of the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), a provision that removed the ban from statute and returned regulatory authority to the Secretary of Health and Human Services to determine whether HIV should remain on a list of communicable diseases that bar foreign nationals from entering the United States. In June of this year, HHS issued a proposed rule lifting the ban and seeking public comment.

"Today a discriminatory travel and immigration ban has gone the way of the dinosaur and we're glad it's finally extinct. It sure took too long to get here. We've now removed one more hurdle in our fight against AIDS, and it's long overdue for people living with HIV who battle against stigma and bigotry day in and day out," said Senator Kerry.

HRC has been a lead organization lobbying on Capitol Hill for the statutory repeal and working to ensure that Department of Health and Human Services' regulations were changed. The Human Rights Campaign worked closely with the offices of Senator John Kerry (D-MA) and former Senator Gordon Smith (R-OR), as well as Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA), the sponsors of the effort in Congress last year to repeal the ban. Since passage of the PEPFAR bill, HRC has lobbied both the Bush and Obama administrations to remove the remaining regulatory ban. When the proposed regulation to end the ban was published, HRC issued a national action alert and generated nearly 19,000 comments in support of the change.

The Human Rights Campaign is America's largest civil rights organization working to achieve lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender equality. By inspiring and engaging all Americans, HRC strives to end discrimination against LGBT citizens and realize a nation that achieves fundamental fairness and equality for all.

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