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CVS, Rite Aid, Walgreens Join Free HIV Prevention Drug Efforts (2)

Dec. 3, 2019, 3:19 PMUpdated: Dec. 3, 2019, 6:19 PM

Pharmacy chains CVS Health Corp., Walgreens Boots Alliance Inc., and Rite Aid Corp. will dispense the HIV prevention drug donated by Gilead Sciences Inc. at no cost to the federal government, the Health and Human Services Department announced Dec. 3.

The Trump administration is set to begin free distribution of the HIV prevention drug Truvada to patients without prescription drug insurance coverage, as Bloomberg Law previously reported. This comes after Gilead Sciences Inc. donated enough of the drug to cover 200,000 people for a maximum of 11 years. It’s part of President Donald Trump’s pledge to end the spread of HIV.

The assistance from the pharmacies will cut the cost of distribution of the drug—set to begin in March—by “over half,” which will allow the money that the HHS has allocated for the effort to go further, Mia Heck, spokeswoman for Assistant Secretary for Health Brett Giroir, said in an interview.

Patients will also be able to get the drugs for free through the pharmacy chains’ mail-order services, HHS Secretary Alex Azar told reporters Dec. 3. The pharmacies will provide patient counseling and take steps to improve drug adherence at no cost to patients, he added.

Patients seeking the free medication will need to test negative for HIV, have no prescription drug insurance coverage, and have a prescription for the drug. The donations do not include costs for lab tests and clinic visits necessary to obtain the prescriptions, Heck said.

Gilead will distribute the drugs until March and HHS will pay the company $200 per bottle, which will be completely passed through to other companies in the drug supply chain like wholesale distributors and dispensers, Azar said. The government will pay Gilead a maximum of $6 million for six months.

Only two drugs, Truvada and Descovy, have been approved in the U.S. for HIV prevention, also known as pre-exposure prophylaxis or PrEP. Both drugs are made by Gilead Sciences Inc. Truvada costs about $20,000 per patient per year, and often receives criticism for its high cost.

The administration is aiming to get 50% of people at risk for HIV on PrEP therapy by 2025. The HHS believes that this program will supply all those in need of PrEP and uninsured based on an estimate by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Giroir said on the call with reporters.

The HHS is also partnering with Walgreens and Health Mart Independent Pharmacies to publicize the availability of the program and to inform patients, health-care providers, and community health centers, Giroir said.

The CDC also released a new analysis Dec. 3 that found new HIV infections were stable from 2013 to 2017 and that only 63% of those who knew they had HIV were virally suppressed. The virus is suppressed when patients’ "viral load” is reduced through medication so they are less likely to spread the disease and more likely to stay healthier longer. The HHS is aiming to get 95% of patients virally suppressed by 2025.

People age 13 to 34, American Indians and Alaska Natives, and heterosexual men were the groups with the lowest percentages of diagnosed HIV.

The analysis also found that only 18% of the 1.2 million people who could benefit from PrEP had received a prescription.

(Updates with additional Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data beginning in the 10th paragraph.)

To contact the reporter on this story: Shira Stein in Washington at sstein@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Fawn Johnson at fjohnson@bloomberglaw.com; Andrew Childers at achilders@bloomberglaw.com

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