The HIV crisis in Florida has been on the rise in recent years. Part of the reason is due to a lack of healthcare funding, though that’s not to say the money wasn’t available. It was there, just diverted by the state’s former Governor, Rick Scott.
reports that not only did Scott refuse to expand Medicaid in Florida, he also was responsible for refusing $70 million worth of healthcare funding for the state. From 2015 to 2017, Florida was forced to return $54 million to the federal government in unspent grants for fighting HIV. The reason? Apparent deliberate failure by state health bosses to secure legislative permission to spend the funds. This links the problem back to Scott’s office.
In 2015, Scott’s administration directly blocked two grant applications from the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that could have possibly won Miami and Broward counties approximately $16 million. It’s not a coincidence these counties currently have among the highest HIV diagnosis rates in the U.S.
The years of Scott’s monetary blocks directly align with spikes in Florida’s already-high rates of HIV. Florida is among the top 10 states with the most annual HIV diagnoses, together accounting for 65% of new cases across all 50 states. Between 2010 and 2017, Florida was the sole state that experienced an increase of nearly 3%.
Scott’s office would later boast that Florida had “invested a record $34 million in HIV/AIDS prevention” in 2015, although that money came nearly entirely from existing CDC grants. They blamed the rise in the figures with the number of increasing HIV diagnoses. Yet New York, also on the list of states with the highest rates of HIV, made prevention and treatment a focus of spending during the same time frame and saw a decrease of 30% in HIV rates.
HIV diagnoses were on the decline in Florida for at least five years through 2013, only to experience that 2015 increase, and the switch from decline to rise in rates is not faultless. Employees from the HIV section of Florida’s health department said they worked under intense pressure to meet the Scott administrations wishes during his latter years as governor, and that his priorities were guided by his political ambitions that won him a seat in the U.S. Senate alongside fellow Florida Republican Marco Rubio.
“I think Rick Scott fueled the epidemic in Florida,” Marlene LaLota, a 28 year veteran of the Florida Department of Health, told The Guardian. LaLota was the administrator of its HIV/Aids section from 2014 to 2016.
William McColl, vice president for policy and advocacy at AIDS United, told The Guardian he senses the HIV crisis “just wasn’t a priority for Scott … He clearly thinks of healthcare as a profit source.”
The HIV epidemic has followed Scott to Congress. He will soon be in a position to cast a floor vote on the Senate’s proposal for the first year of a Trump-backed plan calling for $291 million to battle the national HIV epidemic. This plan will focus on 48 crisis counties in particular, seven of which are in Florida. Whether its people or politics he has in mind, one just hopes that Scott uses his vote this time to give HIV-stricken counties the resources they need.