To mark World AIDS Day and to call attention to a looming threat to HIV treatment and prevention programs, 11 AIDS activists were arrested Thursday afternoon while staging a sit-in at the office of Speaker of the House Paul Ryan.
They were protesting plans by Ryan and by Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.), nominated by President-elect Donald Trump to head the Department of Human Services, to dismantle the U.S. health care system that the global HIV response depends upon. People living with HIV, students, nurses and others took over the hallway outside Ryan’s office, holding signs and banners reading “Ryan & Price’s Healthcare Dream is a Nightmare for People with HIV.”
AIDS activists delivered a letter to the offices of both Ryan and Price. Capitol Police arrested the 11 protesters after they sat down in Ryan's office and said they would refuse to leave until the speaker reversed course on budget plans that would be deadly for people living with HIV.
In addition to the civil disobedience action, AIDS activists from Washington, New York and Philadelphia, representing a dozen organizations, staged a demonstration at the Capitol.
The action was sponsored by a coalition of domestic and international organizations, including: African Services Committee, ACT UP New York, ACT UP Philadelphia, the American Medical Student Association (AMSA), DC Fights Back, the Health Global Access Project (Health GAP), National Nurses United (NNU), the Student Global AIDS Campaign (SGAC), the Treatment Action Group (TAG), Universities Allied for Essential Medicines (UAEM) and VOCAL New York.
Both Ryan and Price have led efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act, privatize Medicare, end Medicaid as we know it and slash billions from “discretionary” safety-net programs, putting funding for global AIDS programs at risk. With Trump in the White House, Ryan leading a Republican-majority House and Price at Health and Human Services, if his nomination is confirmed by the Senate, it would require a combination of unanimous opposition among Congressional Democrats and sustained public outcry to prevent this agenda from steamrolling into public policy.
“Paul Ryan and Tom Price’s corporate health care dreams are a nightmare for people with HIV,” said Bryn Gay of the Treatment Action Group (TAG). “Their deadly budget plan is an unprecedented attack on people with HIV, the likes of which we have not faced for years. Ending these critical health care programs as we know them puts our lives at risk. But AIDS activists are no strangers to a fight, and we won’t accept millions of people having their access to health care cut off in exchange for a tax cut for billionaires.”
The majority of people living with HIV in the U.S. rely on national programs for their health care – 25 percent on Medicare and 40 percent on Medicaid. Repealing the Affordable Care Act – also known as Obamacare – would leave one in 15 Americans, including millions of people living with or at risk for HIV, without health care or access to lifesaving medicines.
Ryan’s plan to turn Medicaid into a state block-grant program and put hard caps on spending – disregarding inflation or an increase in the number of people who need the program – would allow states to dismantle the largest source of health care coverage for people with HIV in the U.S.
“Paul Ryan’s plan hands our families’ health care over to corporations who don’t give a damn about us,” said Wayne Starks of VOCAL-NY. “AIDS activists are not about to let corporate welfare take priority over our health care, or the health care of every Medicare or Medicaid recipient in America. We’re here to tell him to keep his corporate hands off our health care!”
“Medicare, Medicaid and the ACA are the difference between life and death for millions of Americans with HIV,” said Jose DeMarco of ACT UP Philadelphia. "Paul Ryan and Tom Price are planning to pull the rug out from under us, but we’re not going to let that happen.”
“More than half of people living with HIV around the world are not accessing treatment, and millions of people are dying unnecessarily because of austerity budgeting like Paul Ryan’s plan,” said Asia Russell of the Health Global Access Project (GAP). “Global HIV funding was slashed in 2012, and is still $500 million short of previous levels. If Paul Ryan’s proposals are enacted, we will face a resurgent HIV crisis, resulting in more unnecessary deaths and more unnecessary infections.”
Last year there were 2 million new HIV infections around the world, including far too many in the United States. This can be prevented with expansion of HIV treatment and prevention for all. But if the next administration fails to act, millions more could die. That's why 11 activists believed being carted off to jail is a small price to pay to demand that the next Congress fully fund the domestic and global health care programs that are a matter of life and death for people with HIV.