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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, December 19, 2014 - Volume 42 Issue 51
Williams Institute documents discrimination against HIV+ people
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Williams Institute documents discrimination against HIV+ people

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

A new study released by the Williams Institute documents ongoing discrimination against HIV-positive people in the Los Angeles area.

The Williams Institute, founded in 2001, is a research group attached to UCLA Law School, and focuses on disparities affecting the LGBT community.

Williams Institute Executive Director Brad Sears said in an email to supporters that the data his team collected 'just blew us away.'

The Institute interviewed almost 400 people living with HIV as they waited at food banks, participated in support groups, and during education and community events 'from Long Beach to Pomona; from Boyle Heights to Malibu,' Sears said.

Twenty percent of the interviewees were cisgender women, 9% were Trans women, 44% were Latino, and 38% were African American.

Astonishingly, over half of those interviewed reported incomes under $10,000 a year.

Almost everyone interviewed - 97% - reported having to deal with at least one legal issue in the past year. On average, respondents had six or more legal issues in the past year. Their legal problems included consumer law and debt (48%), accessing health care (46%), housing (43%), and immigration issues (18.9%).

Despite the obvious need, only 16% of those who had a legal problem actually got legal assistance. Of those who tried to access legal services, 20% felt that their legal provider was insensitive to people living with HIV.

Twenty-eight percent of the respondents said they had personally experienced discrimination within the last five years, and 16% reported experiencing it within the past year. Of those, more than half said they experienced discrimination in health care settings, one-third in employment, and almost one-fifth in housing.

In a statement to Frontiers magazine, Sears said he hopes the study will help to inform policy-makers on how they might better serve the HIV community, as well as empower those living with the virus with information to 'cut through the stigma, the ignorance and the blatant discrimination that still persists, even in one of the most progressive counties in the nation.'

The new Williams Institute study confirms finding by other groups.

The National Health Law Program (NHeLP), for example, recently reported that some insurance providers are manipulating their Affordable Care Act offerings to exclude HIV-positive individuals. Insurers might, for example, put all HIV drugs in the highest cost brackets, or require prior authorization from the insurance company before they will pay for them.

NHeLP and The AIDS Institute have filed a civil rights complaint asking the federal government to stop four Florida insurance companies from taking similar actions. Since the complaint was filed, two of the insurance companies - Cigna and Coventry - have signed consent decrees with Florida's insurance regulator promising to restructure their HIV benefits and remove barriers to getting HIV meds.

A third company, CMS, has also agreed in principle that placing all medications used to treat a specific condition in a high price bracket constitutes discrimination against people with that condition.

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