HIV drug funding a win-win for Boyle and Mercer

Published 5:27 pm Tuesday, January 14, 2020


The Advocate-Messenger

Boyle County Jailer Brian Wofford deserves a thank-you from local taxpayers in Boyle and Mercer counties for saving them a significant chunk of change.

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Wofford spotted a way to cut the cost of HIV medications for county inmates out of the jail’s budget and quickly pursued it. Now, the jail is expected to save tens of thousands of dollars a year — up to as much as $125,000, depending on how many inmates with HIV/AIDS it houses.

The jail’s current-year budget is around $4.87 million; more than $2.25 million of that is expected to come from the fiscal court general funds in Boyle and Mercer counties. That means the savings found by Wofford could represent as much as 5% of the counties annual contributions.

Now, the HIV medications won’t just be given away to the Boyle jail — they’ll be provided by the Bluegrass Care Clinic with the University of Kentucky, which receives federal Ryan White HIV/AIDS Program funding to cover the costs of HIV medications for those who cannot afford it. So the saying “there’s no free lunch” technically applies here — it’s actually a cost-shift from local to federal tax dollars (though UK may be able to obtain the medications cheaper; we don’t have that information and officials weren’t able to immediately tell us).

But while there may not be any free lunches, there certainly are lunches on someone else. In this case, taxpayers in Boyle and Mercer counties just had their local tax burden lifted a little, thanks to a federal program that’s funded by all the taxpayers in the country. Another way to put it: We will now get a few more of our federal tax dollars sent back to us than we did before. Although Kentucky residents already benefit from far more in federal funding than they pay in taxes, so it might be most accurate to say we’re now getting even more of other states’ tax dollars than we did before.

Whatever way you want to put it, the change ultimately means a significant improvement to the bottom line for one of the largest and fastest-growing expenses for county governments in Boyle and Mercer — incarceration.

That improved bottom line means more money available for better services in the jail, or more money available for other government services such as roads, or less need for tax increases.

Who doesn’t want to pay less money and get more for the money you do pay? And don’t forget — the medications in question are helping keep people healthy and preventing the spread of a very expensive disease.

This is a great all-around improvement that should be welcomed by taxpayers who want to pay less; by health advocates who want to boost quality of life; and by community members who want to improve the outcomes produced by our criminal justice system.