While we highlight May as Hepatitis Awareness Month, and remind people to get tested on May 19th, we should approach our work daily to end viral hepatitis, HIV, STIs, and drug addiction. Only by working together can we meet the goal to eliminate viral hepatitis by 2030.
The silent tragedy of the COVID-19 pandemic is its devastating impact on people with other health conditions. For those illnesses, declining attention has persisted even as the threat of COVID-19 is declining. HIV provides a striking example of the setback — and how the effects are looming in the shadows. In December, President Biden set a goal of reducing new HIV infections to just 3,000 a year by 2030, a decline of more than 90 percent from current levels. That goal is achievable as long as Congress and the administration are putting the right policies in place and people can access and afford their medications.
The end of the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the United States could soon be in sight. While we don’t yet have an HIV vaccine, we have drugs that are nearly 100% effective in preventing people from contracting HIV. These medicines are the cornerstone of a prevention approach called pre-exposure prophylaxis, or PREP. And since the start of 2021, PrEP drugs are supposed to be available at no out-of-pocket cost to most patients with private insurance. Yet obstacles stand in the way of implementing this highly effective prevention tool. These include awareness, stigma, and cost–yes, cost, despite the legal requirement that these drugs be provided free to patients. We must push forward on all these fronts to eliminate this virus once for all.
President Biden has repeatedly promised to make health care more affordable. And his administration has taken some important steps. But sadly, officials at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services just passed up an opportunity to save patients millions at the pharmacy.
Over the next few weeks, thousands will select insurance plans for 2022, whether on a state exchange or through their employer. A health plan’s fine print hardly makes for riveting reading. So most folks just focus on the monthly premium, make sure their doctor is covered, and ensure cost-sharing responsibilities are manageable. But that fine print is important, especially when it comes to how insurers treat co-pay assistance, or financial help that drug companies offer to patients to assist them with prescription drug out-of-pocket costs. [This opinion piece also appeared in The Lebanon Democrat, The Leader/Observer, Forest Hills/Rego Park Times, Long Island City/Astoria/Jackson Heights Journal, Greenpoint Star, and Brooklyn Downtown Star.]