Senator Kamala Harris is introducing a bill to reduce HIV transmission by encouraging the use of PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis), a drug that has been found to be 92% effective in preventing new HIV infections. PrEP would be free to most patients if it becomes law.
According to the CDC, there were nearly 40,000 new HIV infections in the United States in 2017. Health officials said, “Of the 1.1 million people in the United States who could benefit from PrEP, only 7% filled prescriptions for it in 2016.”
The director of AID Atlanta DeWayne Ford, said, “There is a preventative medicine for HIV, and if people would take it, it would significantly help us eradicate HIV from the country in the next 10 years, and yet it is significantly underutilized.”
Ford has been working in HIV prevention for more than 14 years. He said he has been surprised to see more and more younger people coming into his clinic with new HIV infections. He noted, “This is getting worse, not better.”
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved Truvada, PrEP, in 2012. In June, the US Preventive Services Task Force recommended a daily dose of HIV medication to healthy people who are at high risk.
In May, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced that Gilead Sciences Inc., an American pharmaceutical company, has agreed to donate medications that reduce and prevent the risk of HIV transmission for more than 200,000 people a year.
The drug, doctor visits, testing, and other services could be expensive.
Harris’ PrEP Access and Coverage Act would address these needs specifically, needing public as well as private health insurance plans to cover PrEP, the tests, and doctor visits without a copay.
The bill would offer financial assistance to states for more access to PrEP to the uninsured. It would also fund public education campaigns.
Harris said, “PrEP is a critical advancement in the fight against HIV that can finally provide peace of mind to Americans who live in the shadow of the HIV epidemic. But for too many in our country, lack of insurance coverage and exorbitant costs have put PrEP out of reach — and that needs to change.” She added, “We must truly commit ourselves to HIV prevention by finally requiring every health insurance plan — public and private — to cover PrEP and all of the required tests and follow-up doctors’ visits. We must also provide the resources necessary to help people without insurance access PrEP. Nearly four decades since the beginning of the HIV/AIDS crisis that took so many lives and caused countless others to live in fear, we can and will stop the spread of this disease.”