The leadership of the US Senate Appropriations Committee delivered welcome news recently to HIV and public health advocates with the release of their fiscal year 2022 spending bills. Like their colleagues in the House, the Senate has proposed significant funding increases to the Ending the HIV Epidemic in the U.S. initiative with at least $245 million more to focus on increased testing, prevention, treatment, and research programs. This matches the amount proposed in President Biden’s budget and approved by the House.
Even before the Affordable Care Act reduced uninsured rates in our country, it required private insurers to cover essential preventive care at no cost to patients. But just as other pieces of the law require enforcement, so does this one. Today, many individuals face obstacles to accessing affordable treatments that prevent HIV despite insurers’ legal obligation to provide them and federal guidance requiring they be made freely available. In the fight to end the HIV epidemic, federal and state regulators must hold noncompliant health plans accountable to ensure that people can receive the medication and services they need to prevent HIV.
This year, roughly 14,000 Americans will die from hepatitis C, an infectious disease that can be cured by a simple pill in a matter of weeks. It’s infuriating that our government hasn’t done more to end this highly infectious disease that disproportionately impacts minorities and people struggling with substance use disorder. Curative drugs first hit the market in 2013. But hepatitis C cases actually rose 63 percent between 2015 and 2019, according to a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
There’s no question that our healthcare system is broken. Where there is disagreement is in how to fix it. Current proposals being considered by the Congress do little to address the out-of-pocket spending requirements and insurance company access restrictions that impose the biggest burdens on patients. Failing to address these issues would be a huge missed opportunity.
Ending HIV in the United States is possible with the proper leadership and sufficient and targeted resources
After 40 years of living and, sadly, dying with HIV, the United States has become rather complacent. Perhaps this is partially attributable to our own success in treating, preventing, and responding to HIV. But imagine if we allowed another deadly infectious disease, such as COVID-19, to continue to spread for 40 years without investing the attention and resources needed to wipe it out. We must end this dangerous cycle, and we can with the right tools and leadership. But will we?