Influential health panel recommends daily HIV prevention pill

Influential health panel recommends daily HIV prevention pill
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People at highest risk for HIV will soon have access to daily preventive medication at no additional cost through their private insurance plans.

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) recommended Tuesday that doctors offer patients at high risk of acquiring HIV the daily preventive medication known as pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP).

The influential health panel gave the recommendation an “A” rating. Under ObamaCare, most private plans are required to cover any “A” rated services without any patient cost-sharing.

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Medicaid beneficiaries in states that have expanded Medicaid will also gain access to PrEP without charge, while people in non-expansion states will gain free access if their state has decided to cover all USPSTF preventive services.

There were nearly 40,000 new HIV infections in the country in 2017, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The use of PrEP could help cut down that infection rate.

CDC said PrEP can reduce the risk of HIV infection by up to 92 percent in people who are at high risk and who take the drug consistently.

People at high risk of HIV infection include those who inject drugs, and both heterosexual and homosexual people who have have sex without condoms when they don't know the HIV status of their high-risk partner.

PrEP was approved by the Food and Drug Administration in 2012 and first recommended by the CDC in 2014, but access and cost challenges have prevented a large uptake.

Only one brand — a two-medication combination pill called Truvada — has been approved for preventive use in the U.S. While many insurers already cover the drug, the cost is around $21,000 a year.

AIDS prevention groups said the new recommendation should dramatically widen the availability of PrEP.

“Making PrEP available without cost-sharing eliminates a major barrier to this landmark HIV prevention tool,” said Michael Ruppal, executive director of The AIDS Institute. “At a time when out-of-pocket costs are rising for patients as they seek access to medications, this recommendation is a win both for patients and public health.”