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Patients in Trump AIDS Program Need Money for Testing, Doctors

Aug. 6, 2020, 8:53 PM

Patients need federally subsidized HIV testing and doctor’s visits if they participate in a free AIDS prevention program, the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS said in a resolution Thursday.

The AIDS prevention program launched in December to give 200,000 uninsured patients access to Gilead Sciences Inc.'s Truvada, a daily pill that can help reduce the risk of contracting HIV. The free distribution of the drug is a cornerstone of the Trump administration’s initiative to reduce HIV infections. There were about 38,000 new cases of HIV in the U.S. in 2018, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Health and Human Services Department Assistant Secretary Brett Giroir asked the council for recommendations after announcing in June that the program had just 891 participants.

The costs of lab tests could be a reason for the low participation, HIV Council Co-Chair Carl Schmid told Bloomberg Law at the time.

The panel Thursday also asked the National Institutes of Health and the CDC to review their guidance on how often people on Truvada—also known as pre-exposure prophylaxis, or PrEP—need to see their doctors or get certain tests to stay on the drug.

The panel recommended that the department collect data about participants—including location, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, and gender identity—and more aggressively educate providers on prescribing PrEP.

The HHS also announced Thursday that it awarded a $4 million contract to TrialCard, a drug access technology company, to enroll participants in the free PrEP program. TrialCard will also maintain the network of participating pharmacies and distribute the drug, which was donated by Gilead, to patients.

Pandemic

Efforts to increase HIV testing and distributing PrEP are hampered by the Covid-19 pandemic. The council passed another resolution asking HHS Secretary Alex Azar to increase HIV funding for community organizations; state and local health departments; and the nurses, doctors, and other health workers focusing on HIV.

Council members said in June there is increased access to HIV-related care through telehealth during the pandemic but said the services need monitoring.

The council recommended that some pandemic-related regulatory waivers in HIV services be evaluated as possible permanent changes, including 90-day refills of prescription drugs and fewer reporting requirements. The administration has already said it intends to make permanent several general telehealth waivers that came about as a result of the public-health emergency.

Nondiscrimination Protections

In a third resolution, the HIV council urged Azar to drop a regulation that would remove LGBT people from the Affordable Care Act’s non-discrimination protections. The several lawsuits have been filed, challenging the rule. It’s slated to go into effect Aug. 18.

If the rule is put into place, the resolution recommended that the HHS Office for Civil Rights create a system for reporting instances when people are denied care based on “actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity.”

Four members of the HIV/AIDS panel previously sent a letter urging the Trump administration to avoid taking actions that could hinder LGBT individuals’ ability to get care.

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; Brent Bierman at bbierman@bloomberglaw.com