Among Americans who take prescription drugs, a quarter struggle to afford their medication. For those who are in poor health or have low incomes, the portion is even higher. These days, the rising cost of everyday goods and services is forcing more people to face difficult decisions and ask themselves: How can I pay for utilities, the groceries, or the medicine that’s keeping me alive? Now imagine that someone offers you financial assistance for the express purpose of paying for your medicine—problem apparently solved. But in a cruel twist, your health insurer pockets that assistance, without counting it toward your annual deductible or out-of-pocket maximum. That’s why the HIV+Hepatitis Policy Institute, the Diabetes Leadership Council, and the Diabetes Patient Advocacy Coalition filed suit in federal court, challenging the Trump-era federal government rule that allows insurers and pharmacy benefit managers to carry out this harmful practice.
Imagine if Congress, with one simple action, could help end a 40-year-old epidemic, erase some of the racial inequities in healthcare, and save money in the process. That may sound too good to be true. But lawmakers can do it if they fund expanding access programs to a highly effective HIV drug in the 2023 spending bill.
As the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies considers this week what programs to fund in the 2023 budget, many public health concerns will demand their attention. One funding decision that would aim to end HIV — and that goal can be achieved — would also provide long-term benefits for the entire health care system. HIV continues to infect thousands of Americans each year, many of them gay men, even though an effective prevention tool known as pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) is available. PrEP, which lowers the risk of contracting HIV by 99%, was first approved by the FDA in 2012 as a daily pill and is now available in a superior form as an every-other-month injection.
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.