COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — A judge on Thursday granted a request from three AIDS patients to block changes to Ohio rules that they say would drastically reduce eligibility for a government-funded program that pays for HIV and AIDS medications for those in need.

    The Franklin County Common Pleas court ruling blocks the state Department of Health from implementing the rules pending resolution of a lawsuit the men filed Wednesday. A hearing has been set for Nov. 15.

    The rules were set to take effect Friday.

    The men, who also work as advocates for AIDS patients, argue the new AIDS Drug Assistance Program rules will "arbitrarily deny funding for potentially life-saving medications" to low-income, uninsured and underinsured Ohioans with HIV or AIDS-related symptoms. They also argue they weren't properly adopted.

    They say the rules result in some of the nation's most severe medical and financial-eligibility changes to a government medical assistance program and argue that they will give the health department director unilateral control over who receives funds.

    Plaintiff William Booth said new restrictions mean the health department will decide "who lives or dies."

    "The medical and financial criteria that are at the heart of these rule changes in Ohio are murder by proxy, plain and simple," Booth said in a statement.

    An attorney general's spokeswoman was unable to immediately comment after business hours. A telephone message was left after business hours for a health department spokesman.

    AIDS drugs can cost more than $20,000 annually, and patients often need to take several prescriptions.

    Drug Assistance Programs operate in all 50 states using both federal and state funds.

    Several cash-strapped states have recently cut back their programs through steps such as capping enrollment, dropping patients, instituting waiting lists, lowering the income ceiling for eligibility and no longer covering certain drugs or tests.

    The lawsuit says Ohio rules that were to go into effect Friday were finalized last month and would allow a further reduction in financial eligibility guidelines and impose medical guidelines to determine waiting list priority.

    The group says the state has no current waiting list but has had a list as high as 485 within the past year.

    Plaintiff David Baker argues that the changes are not cost-effective for the state or taxpayers.

    "It is cheaper to prevent the progression of illness with medications than it is to pay for advanced illnesses that may require emergency room visits or hospital stays that come with far higher costs to the state down the road," he said.