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6.19.2012

Dream Team of Magic Johnson, the Miller School and Clear Health Alliance Fights HIV/AIDS

Earvin “Magic” Johnson, who during his super star career as a point guard for the Los Angeles Lakers doled out more than 10,000 scoring assists, announced Monday he is making one of his biggest assists in South Florida. His Magic Johnson Enterprises is partnering with the Miller School of Medicine and Simply Healthcare Plans’ Clear Health Alliance to ensure the provision of high quality medical services to the growing number of Medicaid-eligible people with HIV/AIDS in Miami-Dade County, which leads the nation in the number of new AIDS cases per capita.

Johnson, who was diagnosed with HIV 20 years ago while still in the prime of his career and is the picture of health today, said he decided to join forces with the Miller School and Clear Health Alliance, a new Medicaid HIV specialty plan, because they are a “dream team” destined to “change the way people are treated when it comes to HIV and AIDS.”

Created by Simply Healthcare Plans, a Coral Gables-based health maintenance organization, Clear Health Alliance provides an array of benefits, holistic services and care management for Medicaid patients with HIV/AIDS. Introducing the plan at a news conference at the University of Miami Life Science & Technology Park, Miguel “Mike” Fernandez, chairman of the Simply Healthcare Plans board, said the provider piece of the partnership came together two years ago when he began meeting with Pascal J. Goldschmidt, M.D., Senior Vice President for Medical Affairs and Dean of the Miller School, and realized the alliance needn’t have searched the nation for the “best in class” physicians and researchers who could guide and deliver the best HIV care.

“We looked all over the country for that partnership, but as often happens, they were in our backyard,” said Fernandez, a former UM trustee who chairs MBF Heathcare Partners and has committed $100 million to the alliance project. “That partner was the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, one of the nation’s leading institutions for the treatment and research of HIV.”

Recently designated by the NIH as one of only 21 Centers for AIDS Research in the nation, the Miller School has played a pivotal role in HIV/AIDS treatment, research and prevention. Miller School researchers investigated and pioneered the use of AZT, led studies that showed a combination of antiretroviral drugs improved health and survival, and discovered how to prevent the transmission of HIV from pregnant mothers to their babies.

But even though two key components — a managed care company that knew how to manage risks and a medical group that knew “everything there was to be known about AIDS treatment and research”— were in place, Fernandez said the partnership still lacked a heart and soul. So he invited Johnson, who has been committed to transforming urban America through HIV/AIDS awareness and prevention programs over the past two decades, to join what then truly became “a dream team.”

Impressed with Fernandez’s commitment to helping others, and having worked with the Miller School before, Johnson said he didn’t hesitate, and will actively promote the alliance across the nation, starting in South Florida. “Knowing that the Miller School of Medicine would be a part of this I replied, ‘I’m in,’” he said, adding that he wouldn’t be here without Fernandez and the Dean’s leadership and vision. “I’d still be doing my own thing, in terms of speaking at high schools, colleges and churches.”

Dean Goldschmidt, who is also CEO of the University of Miami Health System, called Fernandez and Johnson’s commitment “inspiring,” and the alliance a “game changer” for South Florida and beyond. As he noted, if people infected with HIV would take the antiretroviral medications which can render the viral load in their blood undetectable, they could prevent transmission of the disease nearly 100 percent of the time – ending the epidemic.

“It is critical to move the needle in the AIDS epidemic,” the Dean said. “With therapies and prevention programs we continue to develop, and the support of organizations such as Clear Health and Magic Johnson Enterprises, we can foresee a time when we will stop the AIDS virus in its tracks.’’ Though he is not cured, Johnson said he is healthy because he religiously takes his medications and strictly follows the advice of all his doctors.

Yet today, more than half of the people living with HIV are not under care, nor taking the medications that could halt the disease’s progression and transmission, said Michael A. Kolber, M.D., Ph.D., professor of medicine and Director of the Comprehensive AIDS Program and Clinical Director of the Adult HIV Section for Infectious Diseases. “We need to concern ourselves with people who are not in care and we need to concern ourselves with people who are not infected.”

And that’s exactly what Fernandez said the Clear Health Alliance will do – by “jumping over I-95 and getting to the neighborhood that needs us. … We need to bring the care to them.”

To date, Fernandez said, Clear Health Alliance has enrolled 350 patients in Miami-Dade, and will move into Broward and Palm Beach counties next. For more information, visit www.clearhealthalliance.com.

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