Insurance will soon cover HIV prevention pill at no cost

Living with HIV explainer Sidner orig_00003207

Still HIV negative but at risk of an infection? Take this pill, experts say

The recommendation comes from the United States Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) and encourages anyone who is at high risk of contracting HIV to take PrEP - brand name Truvada - which has been shown to prevent HIV from spreading to HIV-negative people from those who have the infection.

The task force's recommendation could potentially expand access to PrEP, as its endorsement carries weight and requires many insurers to cover prescriptions at no cost to the patient, said Lindsey Dawson, an assistant director for HIV policy at the Kaiser Family Foundation, in an interview. Diane Havlir and Susan Buchbinder of the University of California, San Francisco wrote in JAMA Internal Medicine. The acronym, PrEP, stands for "pre-exposure prophylaxis".

The move is groundbreaking in that it will help motivate those most at-risk to start practicing PrEP, a prevention strategy that when used as directed makes it virtually impossible to contract HIV.

Some 1.1 million people are living with HIV in the U.S. The Trump administration has set a goal of ending the nation's HIV epidemic within 10 years.

"The USPSTF concludes with high certainty that the net benefit of the use of PrEP to reduce the risk of acquisition of HIV infection in persons at high risk of HIV infection is substantial", the USPSTF stated.

PrEP can lower the risk of getting HIV from sex by up to 90%, according to the CDC.

Even though PrEP is highly effective, many people who could benefit from the pill don't take it because they aren't aware of it or because it's unavailable or unaffordable.

There's little downside to taking PrEP.

While the USPSTF also note possible liver and kidney side effects, it cites that the evidence for other possible harms - like bone loss and drug resistance - was weaker and brought no cause for alarm. There is also some concern that PrEP may increase the spread of other sexually transmitted infections if users decrease condom use because they mistakenly believe the pill protects against those diseases, too.

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force reiterated its long-standing advice that everyone ages 15 to 65 - and anyone who's pregnant - should be regularly screened, a step to early, life-saving treatment. In fact, only people who test negative on a recent HIV test are allowed to take it.

Less than half of USA adults have been screened for HIV, and screening rates are low even among high-risk individuals like injection drug users, according to the CDC.

"Screening for HIV is important so that everyone knows their HIV status, and those with HIV can begin treatment right away", USPSTF member John Epling, M.D., said in a statement.

Latest News