Program to help thousands access HIV prevention drug

DC Bureau

WASHINGTON (NEXSTAR) — Tuesday, the Trump administration announced that it’s launching a new federal program to help thousands of uninsured Americans access prEP, the life-saving HIV prevention drug, at zero cost.

“It’s really a historic day. Quite Frankly, it’s unprecedented,” Alex Azar, Health and Human Services Secretary said. “This is such a remarkable program. We have negotiated for this product to be free — free!”

Azar says that without insurance, daily doses of prEP can cost up to $2,000 dollars per month.

Starting in March, Walgreens, Rite Aid and CVS pharmacies will distribute the drug in every state.

Azar says there’s only three requirements to qualify for the new “Ready. Set. PrEP” program.

“Individuals who do not have insurance, do not have HIV and get a prescription from a doctor,” Azar said.

With U.S. statistics showing nearly 40,000 new HIV cases each year, Azar says prevention medicine is key in ending the HIV epidemic over the next ten years.

Drug manufacturer Gilead Sciences make the prEP and is donating the supply.

HHS calculates that it’s enough supply to help 200,000 people each year for the next decade.

Azar says the opioid epidemic has helped spur the HIV epidemic in rural communities as drug users share needles. He says often in those communities where hospitals are far, and stigmas of HIV are more prominent, people aren’t accessing proper medicines.

A way to beat both these problems is the mail order program, which would allow someone to have their PrEP delivered home and save them of the sometimes shame of picking it up in person.

Whitman-Walker Health supports HHS’s efforts to increase the availability and accessibility of medications like PrEP to prevent HIV infection across the United States through implementation of “Ready. Set. PrEP.” 

This program has the potential to reduce disparities in the uptake of PrEP and make sure communities showing higher rates of new HIV infections are aware that PrEP can be an HIV prevention tool for them and that it can be more accessible.

However, financial coverage of the medication is only one part of the equation of biomedical HIV prevention. Increased financial support for ongoing provider visits and lab monitoring is necessary for PrEP uptake to be fully realized, as those using PrEP must visit their medical providers for lab work every 3 months.

“PrEP is highly effective preventive intervention,” Amy Killelea, senior director of Health Systems and Policy at the National Alliance of State and Territorial AIDS, said.

Killelea says access to drugs will help high risk populations in rural and metropolitan areas.

“The 1.1 million people in this country who are indicated for prEP, who are eligible for prEP — only 18 percent of that number is utilizing prEP.” Killelea said.

Killelea says the program is just one piece to fix the access problem. She says the federal government should do more to ensure that all private insurance companies and federal Medicaid programs cover PrEP as well.

While Gilead is also being sued by the federal government for patent infringement over prEP, Azar says the two issues are unrelated.

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