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Spike in Florida HIV rates prompts change in legislation

A growing number of Americans are skipping needed medical care because they can't afford it, according to a recent study released by Commonwealth Fund's Biennial Health Insurance.
A growing number of Americans are skipping needed medical care because they can't afford it, according to a recent study released by Commonwealth Fund's Biennial Health Insurance.

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – An alarming spike in HIV rates in Florida has led to legislative action with a law signed by the governor aimed at cutting into that number in one of the places where the disease is spreading most.

The Department of Health lowered its new case numbers from 6,147 to 4,613, citing the way the Centers for Disease Control handles reporting cases and shifting duplicative cases to states where a person currently lives.

Tallahassee resident Tonie Dozier is HIV positive and devotes her life to prevention. Dozier works with the Minority Alliance for Advocating Community Awareness – a nonprofit in Florida’s capital.

"There’s a lot of work to be done because there are people out there that might have been positive for a while and never been tested," Dozier said.

Dozier said not enough is being done to help reduce new cases, but there’s hope. Gov. Rick Scott signed a law last week creating a pilot program for Miami Dade that would allow drug addicts to exchange old needles for sterile ones. Dozier wants to see the program go statewide.

"Once they go back to heroin they find themselves in a position where they can share needles," Dozier said. "We don’t want them to share needles, we want them to get the medicines they need."

Spiking HIV rates contributed to the state’s surgeon general losing his job this year. He wasn’t confirmed by the state Senate.

"You have somebody that has a record and this person has disappointed the people of Florida," said Miami Sen. Oscar Braynon. "For me, the people of my district, Miami-Dade, as we get labeled for having one of the highest HIV/AIDS rates in the country, I have to vote no."

Now the Department of Health is under scrutiny for changing some of the case numbers. More than 6,000 new cases for 2014 gave Florida the dubious distinction of being No. 1 in the country for new HIV infections. The department has since rolled that number back, making Florida third.