Getting Medical Help
September 21, 2009
Even if you don't yet need to take HIV medications, it's essential that you immediately connect with medical care. You'll need to find health professionals who are experienced in treating HIV-positive people.
Regular checkups with an HIV health care provider are extremely important, even when you don't feel sick. There are many tests and vaccines that are important for HIV-positive people, and a knowledgeable HIV doctor or nurse can be a valuable source of advice on staying healthy and learning more about HIV.
Choosing an HIV Health Care Provider
Because HIV is a complicated disease, you'll need to find a health care provider (this could be a physician, nurse practitioner or physician assistant) with special training in HIV who has treated 20 or more people with HIV in the past two years.
Although knowledge and experience are critical, it's just as important to choose a health professional you like, someone you feel you can trust and be open with about your sexual life and any recreational drug use. You may have to try a few health care providers until you feel comfortable. It's worth the effort.
Your health care provider is your partner in fighting the virus: She or he will be in your corner for a long time to come, helping you deal with the ups and downs of HIV disease, the drugs that control the virus, the side effects that may come with those drugs, and many other health issues. So you want to be sure you choose a person you can feel comfortable with and you can talk to.
Check out these excellent resources for more information on finding a quality HIV health care professional and ensuring a good doctor-patient relationship. Although all of the pages below were written for people living in the U.S., they include plenty of information that can be useful to you if you live in another country, particularly in wealthier countries that have many well-trained HIV care providers.
Paying for Your Medical Care
Partner With Your HIV Specialist
Diagnosed in 1995
"My HIV specialist and I have a good relationship. We are like equal partners, where he tells me everything I need to know medically, but I make the final decisions. He has both compassion and great knowledge of HIV."
Once you're diagnosed with HIV, you'll need regular care for the rest of your life. Usually this means visiting your health care provider every three to four months. Because of the various tests, vaccines and medications that can be involved, HIV care can get a little complex -- and expensive.
If you have private health insurance, the process of paying for care is straightforward.
If you don't have health insurance, the good news is that in the United States and several other countries, there are programs that have been set up to help offset the costs of HIV treatment and medical care.
The not-so-good news is that applying for these programs can get complex and involve a lot of paperwork. That's one big reason why it's good to get in touch with a local HIV/AIDS organization. Many HIV/AIDS organizations have case managers who can help you figure out your options and get you set up with the financial help you need. There are also many clinics throughout the U.S. devoted to treating people with HIV who have no insurance. Many will even help you if you are undocumented. For a nice summary of paying for your meds, read this book excerpt from HIV specialist Joel Gallant, M.D., M.P.H.
(If you live outside the U.S., you can try contacting an HIV/AIDS organization in your country to find out how you can get access to inexpensive HIV care. Keep in mind that many countries -- both wealthy and poor -- have systems that provide people with free health care or access to HIV treatment.)
If you live in the U.S. and need help paying your HIV care bills, some of your options are:
Learn About HIV
Dr. Adaora Adimora
Physician at University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill
"We know that some people bring mistrust of the medical system into their clinic visits ... It's my job, as a provider, to give people information and to earn their trust, but it really helps people when they enhance their own learning and bring that into the clinic visits too."
Private Health Insurance. If you have private health insurance coverage (which is usually provided by your or your partner's workplace), learn all you can about your plan's coverage, especially its participating health care providers (including doctors, hospitals and other health care facilities).
If your coverage is through an HMO (health maintenance organization), check out the list of in-plan doctors who specialize in HIV. Also be sure to find out whether your insurance plan comes with a drug formulary, and see how many HIV-related medications are covered. Check out our frequently asked questions page for more info on health insurance and HIV, or browse our useful overviews.
Click here for more information on private health insurance.
Medicaid. If you don't have private health insurance, you may be eligible for Medicaid -- U.S. government health insurance for people with limited income or resources. Many HIV specialists accept Medicaid. A case manager or your local HIV/AIDS service organization should be able to help you determine whether you're eligible and get you started on the paperwork.
For more information, browse our collection of articles.
Medicare. If you're retired and over age 65, you're eligible for this U.S. government health insurance program. Some people with HIV who are under 65 may also qualify. As with Medicaid, many HIV specialists accept Medicare. Medicare also includes a prescription drug program called "Part D" that can help you get access to lower-cost medications.
For more information, browse our collection of articles.
AIDS Drug Assistance Programs (ADAPs). This federally funded program is available in every U.S. state and provides free HIV and HIV-related medications to low-income people who are uninsured or underinsured. To find out if you qualify for ADAP and to learn how to enroll, talk to your case manager or call the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Healthline at 1-800-232-4636. You can also call your state ADAP hotline. Click here to find your state ADAP phone number. For more information about ADAP, click here.
Other Drug Payment Assistance Programs. There are a range of other programs, including some offered by HIV drug companies themselves, that can help you cut the cost of your HIV treatment. Although you can do much of the leg work and research into these programs yourself, a case manager or your local HIV/AIDS service organization may be able to provide a great deal of help and information. For more information on drug payment assistance programs, click here.
This article was provided by TheBody.
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