I wouldn’t be alive and thriving in my career as a designer if it weren’t for the help provided by a healthcare facility with a safety net.
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. In Callen-Lorde, I found a group of organizers, activists and allies dedicated to expanding healthcare for the LGBTQ+ community and providing support such as counseling, education to health, etc. They helped me get my health and life back on track, allowing me to focus on my career and put me on the path to success.
Every year, Callen-Lorde – a New York-based organization that has provided high-quality, affordable health care to the LGBTQ+ community for 50 years – connects thousands of people like me with lifesaving services. But those services — indeed, Callen-Lorde’s very existence — are now in jeopardy due to an outdated, pre-pandemic plan that dramatically cuts funding for safety net providers across the state.
The cuts are the result of a proposed exclusion from Medicaid drug benefits — a dangerous plan put forward by former Governor Andrew Cuomo before the COVID-19 crisis. If this plan is implemented on schedule in 2023, safety net providers will lose more than $100 million every year, and nearly 80% of health centers would be forced to lay off or lay off staff. At least 32 community clinics should close completely.
Governor Kathy Hochul has the power to single-handedly repeal the Medicaid drug benefit exclusion. If she doesn’t, my health and that of hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers — especially members of the LGBTQ+ community — will suffer.
The Pharmacy Advantage allows safety net providers to purchase medications at a discount and use the savings to fund services for patients not covered by Medicaid, such as food, housing assistance, transportation, mental health counselling, and medication adherence assistance. The exclusion would instead divert those savings directly into state coffers, depriving safety net providers of much-needed resources.
These suppliers are essential. Although the number of New Yorkers newly diagnosed with HIV decreased by 51% between 2011 and 2020, the epidemic disproportionately affects black communities, with the rate of diagnoses among blacks more than 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 joining Callen-Lorde, I decided to volunteer there to help fulfill the organization’s mission of providing low-cost or no-cost services to the LGBTQ+ community. Since then I have witnessed first hand the difference this establishment 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 me monitor my high blood pressure.
Governor Hochul and legislative leaders missed the opportunity to repeal the exclusion in the recently passed state budget and as a standalone bill at the end of the 2022 legislative session. Fortunately, it is still time for the governor to do the right thing before safety net facilities start setting their budgets for next year and making cuts in anticipation of the loss of funding.
As we celebrate Pride Month, many businesses and government organizations will express their support for the LGBTQ+ community. But action speaks louder than words. If the governor fails to repeal Cuomo’s exclusion, the state will not be able to fulfill its promise to end the HIV epidemic by 2024 – a goal that was already delayed two years due to the COVID crisis.
The clock is turning. Governor Hochul must use her executive powers to protect the LGBTQ+ community and other vulnerable people across the state by rescinding Cuomo’s exclusion today, so Callen-Lorde and other safety net providers can continue to provide the life-saving care we desperately need.
Blane Charles is a patient and board member of Callen-Lorde and is the founder of Blane Charles Design.