Well-Being Prevention & Cures

Uninsured Americans to get free HIV-prevention drugs

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  • The new program will give thousands of uninsured Americans access to HIV-preventative medication at no cost.
  • The Trump administration is partnering with major pharmaceutical chains to provide drugs and free counseling.
  • The president spoke on his commitment to ending the HIV epidemic within 10 years during January’s State of the Union address.

Thousands of uninsured Americans will gain access to HIV-preventive medicines at no cost through an initiative by the White House and major pharmacy chains, the Trump administration announced last December. 

About 38,000 people are infected by HIV in the U.S. each year, and there are about 1.1 million people living with HIV in the country today. Taking certain anti-HIV drugs every day can dramatically reduce one’s chances of becoming infected through sex or injection drug use. But only about 18 percent of the 1.2 million potential patients got a prescription last year, and coverage is especially low among young people and minorities, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Without insurance, the drugs can cost up to $2,000 a month, the Associated Press (AP) reported. 

That’s where the administration’s national program — Ready, Set, PrEP — would come in. 

Under Ready, Set, PrEP, those who qualify can get free access to the pre-exposure prophylaxis drug known as PrEP, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex M. Azar II said in his announcement. The initiative is part of the president’s pledge to end the spread of HIV, detailed in this year’s State of the Union address.

Drug maker Gilead Sciences Inc. would donate enough of its HIV prevention medicines to cover up to 200,000 people per year over 10 years. Until March 30, 2020, the government will pay Gilead $200 per bottle to move the drugs through the supply chain to patients across the country, Azar said. 

From there, Walgreens, Rite Aid and CVS chains will dispense the HIV prevention drug and offer counseling to patients at no cost to the government. This will cut the cost of distribution by “over half,” which will allow the money allocated to this program to go even further, Mia Heck, spokeswoman for the assistant secretary for health, told Bloomberg News

Gilead makes two forms of PrEP — Truvada and Descovy. Despite being 99 percent effective at preventing infection, the drugs’ use across the country is still relatively low. In 2018, only about 132,000 people were found to be taking the drug, according to AIDSVu, which maps out the HIV epidemic in the U.S. But more and more people are using PrEP each year. Of gay and bisexual men at high risk of infection, 35 percent took the drug in 2017, and 9 in 10 were aware of it, according to the CDC

The Trump administration aims to reduce the number of new HIV infections by 75 percent in five years and by 90 percent in 10 years. Ready, Set, PrEP is the first time the federal government is supplying PrEP for patients not enrolled in other federal health programs, The New York Times reports

Any person who lacks health insurance, has a prescription for PrEP, and tests negative for HIV qualifies for the program. They can call 855-447-8410 or sign onto a new government website, getyourprep.com, to apply for free HIV-prevention drugs. They can also apply in person, Azar said, through a participating healthcare provider such as a community clinic.