The cost of HIV prevention drugs PrEP remains high for many despite efforts to address the problem

While many celebrated the recent move to make HIV prevention drugs free on most insurance plans, those who are uninsured have felt the gap between them and their life-saving treatment has widened further.

“The story we continue to meet is that it’s not just the cost of the pill. Now is the time I have to go to a doctor every three months to check in, get tested. STIs and monitoring my kidneys. This is really where the cost seems to lie across the board, “said Lee Storrow, executive director of the North Carolina AIDS Action Network.

Although the cost of drugs varies, Storrow said accessing a doctor can be the most difficult part of treatment for an uninsured person, especially an LGBTQ + person.

According to data from the Human Rights Campaign, 17% of LGBTQ + people do not have health insurance, compared to 12% of their heterosexual counterparts. LGBTQ + transgender people and people of color are even more likely to be uninsured.

“As a community, we really need to advocate and push for more tools to get both drugs, but also more access to healthcare,” Storrow said.

He added that it is also important to help people find supportive health care providers.

“Especially for people living in more rural communities in North Carolina, you may not have a health care provider in your county who is comfortable talking about PrEP, who is available to you. comfortable talking about homosexual sex, ”he said.

If a patient were to try to pay out of pocket for drugs, which must be taken daily and indefinitely, they could face huge costs. A search for one of the leading brand name PrEP drugs on a discount pharmacy website for zip code 27601 returned prices ranging from $ 40 to over $ 1,200.

“I think this formula for calculating the price of a drug is very complex and something that I can’t even begin to understand,” said Dr Melissa Haithcox-Dennis, executive director of the Alliance of AIDS Services of the Carolinas. .

She added that drug companies will provide drug assistance programs that will lower the cost of PrEP for those who need help paying, and that the federal government’s Ready, Set, PrEP program provides free access to drugs. medications. The AAS-C also provides what it calls a ‘concierge level service’, helping people make appointments with friendly providers, get free STI and HIV tests, and get started on their journey. treatment.

“It can be difficult, especially when you want to have PrEP and are interested, but unfortunately uptake is low because getting it the first time is very difficult,” Haithcox-Dennis said.

Storrow added that extending Medicaid would not only help LGBTQ + people get health care, it would allow all uninsured and underinsured people to access medication and doctor visits that they may need. ‘they couldn’t afford before.

“So yeah, it’s about a conversation about sexuality, about LGBTQ identity, about dating, about love, but at its core, it’s about accessible health care,” Storrow said. .

Haithcox-Dennis added that reducing the cost of the drug for those who are uninsured or underinsured, reducing barriers to medical care for STI exams and tests, reducing stigma and taking into taking into account the social determinants of health will facilitate access to medicines, in general, for everyone.

“When you have to choose between food and PrEP, a lot of times most people choose food, don’t they? Said Haithcox-Dennis.

She and Storrow said removing the stigma and shame from PrEP would be a major step in lowering costs for uninsured people, especially those who are LGBTQ +, and allowing them to get treatment for life. that they deserve.

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