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Massachusetts: Patients, Advocates Hope to Ease a Visible Burden

March 24, 2014

This article was reported by Boston Globe.

The Boston Globe reported that a bill introduced in the Massachusetts Legislature would require insurance companies in the state to pay for liposuction for HIV patients who have been disfigured from the effects of early HIV treatment. Liposuction is the only treatment for lipodystrophy, a side effect from toxicity to HIV treatments in the 1990s that caused large amounts of fat cells to gather around the neck and upper back. Many patients who suffer from "horse collar" or "buffalo hump" rarely leave their houses to avoid stares and whispers.

Rep. Carl M. Sciortino Jr. (D-Medford) and 21 other legislators sponsored the bill. Insurance companies traditionally have not paid for the treatment, saying that liposuction would be approved only if medically necessary. Infectious disease doctors argue that liposuction is medically necessary to treat lipodystrophy. The disease is not only cosmetic, as sufferers also have debilitating pain associated with posture and herniated disc issues.

Several lipodystrophy sufferers, as well as health experts, appeared before the legislature earlier this month to describe the stigma they have suffered that was brought on by drugs meant to prolong their lives. Rep. Michael A. Costello (D-Newburyport) said he was swayed by the testimonies. "It begs the question, why does insurance see this as cosmetic and not as medically necessary? I'm inclined to move it quickly," he said. Sen. Anthony W. Petruccelli (D-East Boston) agreed the testimony was moving but lawmakers also must weigh costs health premiums would incur from a mandated procedure.

HIV activists argue that this type of bill is long overdue for patients who have been suffering with this disfigurement for decades. "It is completely unacceptable that in 2014 there are people with HIV who do not leave their homes and live as recluses, who are suicidally (sic) depressed," said Bennett Klein, director of GLAD's AIDS Law Project.

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