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Opinion

All the news doesn’t fit

Some days, especially in August, it's all we can do to find enough good news stories to fill our six-slot template on the home page, even if we write one or two of our own.

But with the Legislature nearing its end, we now have way too much important and interesting health news to fit it all in. We have to give preference to articles about pending policy issues that will be voted up or down today or within the week (while still leaving at least one slot for comic relief, like the use of a placebo to boost FCAT scores).

Allow me to call your attention to one that got crowded out.

The Fort Myers News-Press offers an in-depth look at the way Florida's Department of Health is treating HIV-AIDS patients who need antiviral drugs they can't afford on their own. Here is the top:

"Florida leads the nation in the number of people waiting for lifesaving AIDS drugs, according to newly released figures, and area advocates are calling for an investigation.

”Federal auditors last year found multiple failures in the $103-million program to get AIDS drugs to needy Floridians, including poor planning, communication and record-keeping. They concluded administrators misread the signs of looming crisis and mismanaged program money.

"While thousands waited for medicine, for example, the state spent $71,000 on awareness-building bus signs and billboards in five cities. Physician Bob Schwartz, a longtime Fort Myers AIDS advocate, calls that “a monumental waste of money while patients’ lives are at risk."

The federal government gives Florida about $95 million a year for people who can’t afford AIDS drugs, the News-Press reports, while the state contributes the rest.

But rather than kick in enough money to cover all those who need the drugs, according to the story, the state creates a waiting list. And it makes the list appear shorter than it really should be, the article says, by creating paperwork hurdles and delays to keep names from showing up.

The report quotes Schwartz as saying that “even with a team of social workers, people get jerked around...(Florida’s) whole system is designed to avoid responsibility.”

DOH spokeswoman Jessica Hammonds was quoted in the News-Press as saying that the agency is addressing the issues raised in the federal audit. No details were offered.

At the end of the story, Schwartz asks: “Has anybody been punished for this malfeasance? Usually when people fail like this, they get replaced.”

That seems a valid question. Health News Florida has asked DOH for an answer.

Stay tuned.

--Health News Florida is an independent online publication dedicated to public-service journalism. Editor Carol Gentry can be reached at 727-410-3266 or by e-mail.