A doubling in the number of AIDS cases last year will further plague the nation's healthcare system, say experts studying the deadly disease's financial impact.
An expansion of the clinical definition of AIDS used by the Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has caused greater concern for healthcare providers. The change helped boost the number of cases 111% last year, to 103,500 from 49,016 in 1992. The increase, announced earlier this month, is far greater than the 75% rise AIDS experts had predicted.
"There's no question the increase in AIDS cases has put a severe strain on the healthcare system," said Gina Pugliese, director of infection control at the American Hospital Association. "It's straining all resources, whether they be community or financial, and now it's a bigger problem."
The cost of treating an AIDS patient from diagnosis until death now is estimated at $119,000.
Healthcare reform and the Clinton administration's attention to the AIDS epidemic already have funneled more federal dollars toward researching and treating the disease. Total federal spending for people with AIDS or infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, will increase to $7 billion in 1995 from $6.4 billion in 1994, according to estimates from the Office of National AIDS Policy (see chart).
Last year, the CDC expanded its definition of AIDS to include those infected with HIV who also have a severely suppressed immune system, tuberculosis, recurrent pneumonia or invasive cervical cancer. The groups most affected by the expanded definition are women, blacks, heterosexual IV-drug users and hemophiliacs.
"There are only so many AIDS care dollars, and now the pie is bigger," Ms. Pugliese said.
Because there are more people defined as having AIDS, analysts said more people probably will be eligible for Social Security disability benefits. Last year, the Social Security Administration expanded its HIV-related disability criteria, according to the Washington-based AIDS Action Council.
In a related matter, an $875,000 project designed to prevent the spread of HIV was launched last week by the Kaiser Family Foundation, the Harvard AIDS Institute, the Center for AIDS Prevention Studies at the University of California-San Francisco and Family Health International.
The project will study the effectiveness of current HIV-prevention strategies. It also will develop physicians' guidelines and establish a computer data base to allow physicians to get the latest AIDS and HIV information available.
"A dozen years into this epidemic, prevention remains our only proven `vaccine' against HIV," said Mark D. Smith, M.D., executive vice president of the Kaiser Family Foundation.
AIDS has killed more than 180,000 Americans since the epidemic began in the early 1980s.