Emergency federal funding is running out for AZT, the only drug that has proved to be effective in prolonging the lives of many AIDS patients. No major funding is in sight. As a result, an estimated 6,000 persons face suspension of the treatment, and future treatment of an increasing caseload will be imperiled.
Leaders of Congress are reluctant to remedy the problem, arguing that AIDS is but one of many catastrophic illnesses that are crippling and impoverishing Americans in a health system that provides no medical or hospital protection for 38 million persons. Congressional leaders insist that the deficit-reduction program prevents them from addressing the problem. Some have insisted that the states themselves should solve the problem. Furthermore, they remind us that Congress warned from the outset that the program was a one-time emergency move.
A more appropriate response would recognize that the situation has changed, and it is now clear that the need that inspired the emergency program has grown into a desperation that requires a permanent program. The search for overall insurance to protect against the terrible consequences of catastrophic illness for all Americans needs to be pursued. Only through a national approach can there be a cost-effective global program. In the meantime, however, a further funding of the AZT program should not be delayed.