For Pride, Governor Hochul has a chance to protect the LGBTQ+ community

Blane Charles[32]
Blane Charles.
Blane Charles

I would not be alive and thriving in my career as a designer if it weren’t for the help provided by a safety-net health care facility.

When I walked through the doors of Callen-Lorde Community Health Center in 2000, I was struggling. I had attempted suicide twice. I needed help — and fast. At Callen-Lorde, I found a group of organizers, activists, and allies dedicated to expanding healthcare for the LGBTQ+ community and providing support like counseling, health education, and more. They helped me get my health — and my life — back on track, enabling me to focus on my career and set me on the path to success.

Each year, Callen-Lorde — a New York City-based organization that has provided high-quality, affordable healthcare to the LGBTQ+ community for 50 years — enables thousands of people like me to obtain life-saving services. But these services — in fact, Callen-Lorde’s very existence — are now in jeopardy due to an outdated, pre-pandemic plan that significantly cuts funding for safety-net providers statewide.

The cuts are the result of a proposed Medicaid pharmacy benefit carve-out — a dangerous plan advanced by former Governor Andrew Cuomo prior to the COVID-19 crisis. If this plan is implemented on schedule in 2023, safety-net providers will lose more than $100 million annually, and nearly 80% of health centers would be forced to dismiss or lay off staff. At least 32 community clinics would need to close entirely.

Governor Kathy Hochul has the power to single-handedly repeal the Medicaid drug benefit carve-out. If she fails to do so, my health, and the health of hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers — particularly members of the LGBTQ+ community — will suffer.

The pharmacy benefit allows safety-net providers to buy discounted drugs and use the savings to finance services for patients that aren’t covered by Medicaid, like food, housing assistance, transportation, mental health counseling, and medication adherence assistance. The carve-out would instead divert those savings directly into the state coffers, robbing safety-net providers of much-needed resources.

These providers are critical. Although the number of New Yorkers newly diagnosed with HIV decreased by 51% between 2011 and 2020, the epidemic disproportionately impacts Black communities, with the rate of diagnoses among Black people over 8 times higher than that of whites. New York City remains the epicenter of HIV in the state, accounting for 78% of cases.

Shortly after connecting with Callen-Lorde, I decided to volunteer there to help fulfill the organization’s mission to provide low or no-cost services to the LGBTQ+ community. Since then, I have witnessed firsthand the difference this facility has made in hundreds of lives. I am now a proud board member, but to this day, I depend on Callen-Lorde for cancer screenings, COVID-19 protection, and to help monitor my high blood pressure.

Governor Hochul and legislative leaders missed the opportunity to repeal the carve-out in the recently enacted state budget and as a stand-alone bill at the end of the 2022 legislative session. Thankfully, there is still time for the governor to do the right thing before safety-net facilities start putting together their budgets for next year and making cuts in anticipation of lost funding.

As we celebrate Pride Month, many corporate and government organizations will voice their support of the LGBTQ+ community. But action is more important than words. If the governor fails to repeal the Cuomo carve-out, the state will not be able to realize its pledge to end the HIV epidemic by 2024 — a goal that was already delayed two years due to the COVID crisis.

The clock is ticking. Governor Hochul must use her executive powers to protect the LGBTQ+ community and other vulnerable individuals statewide by cancelling the Cuomo carve-out today, so Callen-Lorde and other safety-net providers can continue to deliver the life-saving care we so desperately need.

Blane Charles is a patient and Board Member at Callen-Lorde and is the founder of Blane Charles Design.

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