From the office of Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman: Reps. Watson Coleman, Barbara Lee, Schiff, Jones Reintroduce PrEP Assistance Program Act

Press Release

October 15, 2021

From the office of Representative Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-NJ):

Today, Representatives Bonnie Watson Coleman (NJ-12), Barbara Lee (CA-13), Adam Schiff (CA-28) and Mondaire Jones (NY-17) reintroduced the PrEP Assistance Program Act to make the preventative HIV drug PrEP more affordable and accessible to underserved and high-risk populations. The bill would provide grants to cover medication costs, clinic and testing fees, physician visits and community outreach programs.

Although PrEP has been available for several years, many Americans lack access to and awareness of the medication. The PrEP access gap is especially prevalent in Black and Latinx communities, who also suffer from disproportionately high rates of HIV.  

“Thanks to decades of scientific advancement, we now have the tools to end the HIV epidemic once and for all. The next step is getting those tools into the communities that need them most,” said Congresswoman Watson Coleman. “This is not just a public health issue — it’s a social justice issue too. The PrEP Assistance Program Act is an important step toward both eliminating HIV and advancing healthcare equity.”

“As the founding Co-Chair of the bipartisan and bicameral Congressional HIV/AIDS Caucus, I am proud to join Reps. Bonnie Watson Coleman, Adam Schiff and Mondaire Jones for the introduction of the PrEP Assistance Program Act. While we have made great strides over the last 40 years in the fight to end the HIV/AIDS epidemic, more people are living longer with HIV than ever before,” said Congresswoman Lee. “But despite the rate of diagnoses decreasing due to federal investments in HIV/AIDS research, prevention, education and care, Black Americans, Latinos, Asians, American Indians, Alaska Natives, Native Hawaiians and other Pacific Islanders are still disproportionately affected by HIV in the United States. The PrEP Assistance Program Act would help address gaps in access to PrEP, support existing PrEP Assistance Programs and create new programs in communities most in need of PrEP to prevent the spread of HIV.”

“Because of the advancement in PrEP, we have the ability to end the HIV epidemic. But due to a lack of access and other systemic barriers, this life-saving drug is still tragically underutilized by individuals that need it most, including those who are uninsured or at the highest risk of contracting an infection,” said Congressman Schiff. “This critical legislation will help PrEP medication and other essential testing and treatment services to equitably reach communities and ensure no one has to suffer from a now-preventable disease.”

“As a gay, Black man, I know firsthand the life-changing power of PrEP,” said Congressman Jones. “PrEP allows millions of Americans at higher risk of contracting HIV, especially LGBTQ+ people, to live their lives without fear. But today, too many people go without this medication simply because they can’t afford it or don’t know about it. In the wealthiest nation on Earth, that is unjust and unacceptable, which is why I’m so proud to introduce the PrEP Assistance Program Act with Rep. Watson Coleman. In our ongoing fight to affirm LGBTQ+ justice and eradicate HIV and AIDS — which disproportionately impact LGBTQ+ people of color — getting PrEP to every person who needs it is essential. As the first openly gay, Black member of Congress and a co-chair of the Congressional Equality Caucus, I won’t stop fighting until we do.”

Independent medical and health equity organizations, including the Human Rights Campaign, the National Alliance of State and Territorial AIDS Directors (NASTAD), the HIV+Hepatitis Policy Institute and the HIV Medicine Association, have thrown their support behind the bill. 

“Expanding access to pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP), a daily medication to reduce the risk of HIV infection in high-risk individuals, is imperative if we are to meet the nation’s goal of ending the epidemic by 2025,” said J. Maurice McCants-Pearsall, Director of HIV and Health Equity for the Human Rights Campaign. “The PrEP Assistance Program Act would remove barriers to utilizing this critical tool for HIV prevention, an important step towards diminishing disparities in those who can access this effective preventive measure. The Human Rights Campaign thanks Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman for her leadership on this issue.” 

NASTAD applauds the Members of Congress who introduced the PrEP Assistance Program Act (PrEP Act). The PrEP Act will provide needed resources to jurisdictional health departments to ensure far more individuals will have access to affordable PrEP and support services,” noted Executive Director Stephen Lee, MD, MBA. “Given the disparities in PrEP access, particularly among young, gay Black and Latinx men and transgender women, NASTAD is hopeful that this legislation will increase access to PrEP for these populations.

“We will not end the HIV epidemic without significant increases in the number of people vulnerable to HIV using PrEP. Coupled with efforts to bring down the cost of the drug, this bill will considerably improve access to PrEP and get us one step closer to our goals of reducing new diagnoses. We must continue to address stigma and other systemic barriers that have fueled the relatively low number of individuals currently accessing PrEP in this country,” Dr. Lee concluded.

HIV+Hepatitis Policy Institute fully supports this bill and urges Congress to swiftly pass it. While there are government programs for people living with HIV and other prevention programs, there isn’t a comprehensive nationwide program for PrEP,” said Executive Director Carl Schmid. “The PrEP Assistance Program Act would help fill that void by providing grants to states, community-based organizations, community health centers, and others to establish and support PrEP programs. Not only would these programs provide PrEP and associated medical services, but also much needed community and provider outreach programs.”

“Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) is a highly effective tool for preventing HIV, and yet only about 18 percent of those who could benefit from it have been prescribed PrEP. The rate of prescribing is even lower in the Black and Latinx community, especially men who have sex with men (MSM) and women, as well as among youth (16-24 years old) and persons who inject drugs,” said HIV Medicine Association Chair Marwan Haddad, MD, MPH. “The PrEP Assistance Program Act would provide much-needed resources to rural and community-based clinics and other safety net programs to improve PrEP access for the most affected populations and help to advance efforts to end the HIV epidemic in the U.S.”

The PrEP Assistance Program Act is cosponsored by Reps. Lois Frankel (FL-21), Mark Pocan (WI-02), Ann Kuster (NH-02), Adriano Espaillat (NY-13), Gregory Meeks (NY-05), Rashida Tlaib (MI-13), Marilyn Strickland (WA-10), Chris Pappas (NH-01), Nydia Velázquez (NY-07), Carolyn Maloney (NY-12), Jamie Raskin (MD-08), Steve Cohen (TN-09), Sylvia Garcia (TX-29), Mark Takano (CA-41), David N. Cicilline (RI-01), Greg Stanton (AZ-09), Gwen Moore (WI-04), Nikema Williams (GA-05), Katie Porter (CA-45), Mary Gay Scanlon (PA-05), Paul Tonko (NY-20), Peter Welch (VT-At Large), Brian Higgins (NY-26), Eleanor Holmes Norton (DC-At Large), Henry C. “Hank” Johnson Jr. (GA-04) and Karen Bass (CA-37).

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