On Friday, six members of the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS resigned. In an op-ed published in Newsweek, council member Scott Schoettes wrote he and other members could no longer be effective serving a “president who simply does not care.”
Here & Now‘s Jeremy Hobson talks with Schoettes (@pozadvocate) about HIV/AIDS policy in the Trump administration, and why he and others are resigning.
On the decision to resign from the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS
“It became clear to us that the administration was not listening to people living with HIV, or the people that work in HIV. That they didn’t care to engage with the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS, and actually discuss these policy issues to inform the legislation, for instance, that they were working on, and that ultimately they pushed through a piece of legislation that will be devastating for the community of people living with HIV and our ability to fight the epidemic down the road. And at that point we realized that we were not having the effect we wanted to have from within, because we weren’t being listened to, and that we would be better off going outside and making our case directly to the people, the public, and hopefully some of the senators that will actually be creating this legislation.”
On the American Health Care Act
“It is a bill that will make it much more difficult for people living with HIV to obtain coverage if they do not already have it, [and] to afford coverage because the insurers are going to be able to once again start charging people with preexisting conditions who fall off of the insurance rolls for any period of time, more difficult for them to get back in. In addition, the cuts that they are proposing to Medicaid — both the contraction of eligibility and the cuts to the programs, and handing over to the states — how those cuts are going to be implemented will have a tremendous effect. Forty percent of people living with HIV in this country are on Medicaid, and if you’re going to cut back on those services, you’re going to cut back on their health — prematurely, potentially, end their lives — and you’re also going to create a situation where there are more infections down the road.”
On the implications of President Trump’s budget
“It’s a problem not only domestically but globally as well. In today’s epidemic… first of all, it’s important for people to realize that there is still an epidemic going on, and there is still — in this country — a pretty devastating effect on communities of color, on young gay and bisexual men, on transgender women, particularly transgender women of color, on low-income people really across the board, and by cutting these funds you are really condemning those people to ill health and premature death.”
On making the decision to resign, instead of staying on to influence the administration’s policies
“We did not resign the day after the election. We did not resign the day of the inauguration, when the White House took down the website for the White House Office for National AIDS Policy, which has yet to return… Similarly, they did not appoint anyone to be the director of the White House Office for National AIDS Policy, which is really the voice of the community and the advocates that work on HIV to the White House, so there’s no one in that position actually talking to the president.
“So we wanted to engage, so we didn’t resign at that time, and we started and we had our meeting in March. It just became more and more apparent — and really the American Health Care Act for me was the straw that broke the camel’s back. It’s more like a two-by-four than a straw, because of how horrible it would be for our community. And I’ll also say: for some people that might be the right decision, and I think, the people who are staying — because there are 15 members left on this council — I hope that they are able to influence the policy from the inside, and I honor them for sticking there and doing it. I knew that for myself, I could be more effective and do more if I was freed from the constraints of what I could say publicly, and how vociferously I could make my concerns known.”