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Investigation reveals Rick Scott administration rejected federal grants for HIV/AIDS prevention

Florida saw infections soar after $54 million for medicine rejected.

At a time when medical advancements have reduced the spread of HIV in America, Florida stood alone in recent years, seeing double-digit growth in infection rates. One possible explanation, according to an investigation released Wednesday by The Guardian’s Benjamin Ryan: the Rick Scott administration’s blocking of $70 million in federal funds to combat HIV. 

Much like Scott’s opposition to expanding federal Medicaid programs during the majority of his time in Florida’s Governor’s Mansion, his Department of Health quietly let $54 million for prescription drug reimbursements for low-income HIV patients go unspent between 2015 and 2017.

During those years, Florida erased recent progress it had made in reducing the spread of HIV; after at least five straight years of declining numbers, the state saw diagnosis jump again in 2014, the same fiscal year the federal funds were first rejected.

Of the 10 U.S. states with the highest number of HIV diagnoses, Florida was the only one that saw an increase in new cases between 2010 and 2017. Similarly-sized New York, which spent aggressively on HIV prevention, saw a decrease of 30 percent.

“I think Rick Scott fueled the epidemic in Florida,” former Department of Health administrator Marlene LaLota told The Guardian. “How many infections could have been prevented with that money? How many lives could have been saved? Shame on them.”

To capture the awarded federal funds, Florida’s DOH simply needed to request the Joint Legislative Budget Commission (LBC) approve the appropriation — a common accounting procedure. For his investigation, Ryan spoke to multiple DOH employees who said they were prohibited from communicating with lawmakers about the topic during the period in question.

Ryan also reported the Scott administration blocked CDC grant applications from Miami and Broward counties, which have among the highest HIV diagnosis rates in the U.S.

Scott’s laser-focus on opposing Obamacare helped carry him to the Governor’s Office in 2010, and he continued to oppose the expansion of federal health care programs for most of his eight years in office, rejecting tens of millions of additional dollars in ACA grants.

Scott also made headlines his first year in office by rejecting more than $2 billion awarded to Florida by the Obama administration for high-speed rail.

A spokesperson for now-U. S. Sen. Scott said the unspent grants were the fault of the Legislature, but the Guardian confirmed the allocations were never referred to the Legislature from 2014 to 2017.

Florida Politics also spoke to a handful of LBC members during those years, including two in positions of leadership, and none said they were ever made aware of federal HIV grants that were available to the state.

Following the report’s publication, LGBTQ civil rights organization Equality Florida released a statement condemning Scott’s actions.

“This is outrageous and irresponsible. This reporting indicates that Senator Scott purposefully worked against public health, directly endangering Floridians and keeping Florida among the highest states for HIV transmissions in the nation,” Equality Florida HIV Advocacy Project Director Alejandro Acosta said in a news release. “We cannot afford silence when it comes to HIV.  Florida should be using every tool at its disposal to combat its HIV epidemic, both through the state budget and state policy.”

On Thursday, Gov. Ron DeSantis announced his support for funding HIV prevention and treatment, earning praise from Equality Florida.

“Governor DeSantis’ announcement on funding a ‘robust program’ to address HIV in Florida is a proactive and encouraging first step toward decreasing the consistent number of transmissions in the state, which is nearly 5 thousand new transmissions each year,” Acosta said.

“We need to use every tool we have to combat the epidemic. We look forward to engaging with Governor DeSantis and his team on how we can do that —through both policy and budget.”

Read or share the Guardian’s in-depth investigation, which runs approximately 2,000 words and takes about 15 minutes to read.

Written By

Noah Pransky is a multiple award-winning investigative reporter, most recently with the CBS affiliate in Tampa. He’s uncovered major stories such as uncovering backroom deals in the Tampa Bay Rays stadium and other political investigations. Pransky also ran a blog called Shadow of the Stadium, giving readers a deep dive into the details of potential financial deals and other happenings involving the Tampa Bay- area sports business.

11 Comments

11 Comments

  1. DisplacedCTYankee

    September 11, 2019 at 8:58 am

    And yet idiot Floriduh voters sent this creep Scott to the United States Senate. I retired here five years ago for the weather and more affordable housing but am about ready to throw in the towel and move back where I belong. I know … good riddance.

    • gary

      September 14, 2019 at 12:10 pm

      Don’t let the door hit you on the way out lefty!

  2. Ace

    September 11, 2019 at 9:09 am

    Funny that you left California out that saw a similar 12% increase as Florida did and yet received the funds!

    https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.kff.org/hivaids/fact-sheet/the-hivaids-epidemic-in-the-united-states-the-basics/amp/

  3. Curious Mind

    September 11, 2019 at 12:15 pm

  4. Jomarie

    September 11, 2019 at 2:26 pm

    Republicans are monsters.

  5. totally frank

    September 11, 2019 at 5:22 pm

    Matching 12% figures or not, California’s population at 39, 787,000 is almost twice Florida’s at 21,646,000 so their actual numbers will obviously be drastically different. Regardless, and FYI, California’s care of their HIV / AIDS patients is extraordinarily good. Meanwhile, the man who STILL has the record for the largest government fine ever (over his Medicare fraud) Rick Scott has once again killed more people with his arrogance, homopohbia and stupidity. Florida while he’s there, and Republican’s are in power in any way, shape or form — the state will continue to be he worst.

  6. Magoly

    September 12, 2019 at 10:16 am

    Rick Scott is doing Satans work, allowing this disease to spread.

  7. Sonja Fitch

    September 12, 2019 at 10:47 am

    Same old same old. Killed Medicare folks by denying care and now Ricky adds hiv humans to his “kill” list of the sick and old. Quit Nazi Rick. You are just another GOP white man racist.

  8. Gary Jackson

    September 12, 2019 at 2:28 pm

    He was the worst gov. I saw here.Turned down a lot of Federal money Investigated for Medicare fraud.

  9. Shalaish

    September 13, 2019 at 3:46 pm

    Mr Richard Scott knows how to run a system effectively to benefit himself and people around him. He didn’t want to give State of FL to Democrats and that was the reason he didn’t take the money from Obama Administration for MCD and HIV treatment. State has funding to continue to provide services and treatment, Let’s not blame Mr Scott but get these programs funded

  10. gary

    September 14, 2019 at 12:09 pm

    Love the headline! Seems all you had to do was ask…another piece of propaganda attack piece!

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