If you have to ask how much it costs ...

Let's tune in to a game show I stumbled across while flipping channels.

Host: "Hey, everybody! It's time for another edition of 'The Price Is Rigged': the game show that pits haves against have-nots in a lively and fun-filled competition for life-sustaining treatments for HIV. Let's meet today's contestants. Johnny, who do we have in the studio today?"

Announcer: "Well, Bob, from West Hollywood, California ... joining us between a morning Pilates workout and his weekly teeth-bleaching appointment ... HIV-infected for nine years AND a holder of a cushy private insurance plan ... Wes Well-to-do, come on DOWN!"

Announcer: "And from Little Rock, Arkansas ... single mother of three latchkey children ... swing shift assistant manager at the downtown Tas-T-Freeze ... HIV-positive for one year and NO ACCESS to health benefits ... Thelma Threadbare, come on DOWN!"

Host: "Welcome to 'The Price Is Rigged,' contestants. You know the rules. In a few seconds we'll show you a drug used to treat HIV. Your job will be to guess its out-of-pocket cost to you. The contestant who comes closest to the drug's actual cost will take it home! Ready to play? Good! Then let's go! Johnny, what will Wes and Thelma be bidding on today?"

Announcer: "Fresh from the oven at DuPont Pharma ... just approved for marketing by the FDA ... the new non-nuke on the block ... Wes and Thelma, you'll be the ENVY of your friends when they open YOUR medicine cabinet and see this one-year supply of ... SUSTIIIIIIIIIVA!"

Audience: "Ooooohhhhh."

Host: "All right, contestants, you have 30 seconds to write your guess on the slate in front of you. Ready ... go! And while Wes and Thelma are writing, I'd like to remind our viewers at home that because 'The Price Is Rigged' is taped weeks in advance before a live studio audience in Hollywood, some products seen on 'The Price Is Rigged' may be pulled off the market by the FDA by the time that the show is aired. OK, contestants. Time's up. Let's see your guesses. Thelma, what would the out-of-pocket cost of a one-year supply of Sustiva be to you?"

Thelma: "Uh, five hundred dollars?"

Host: "No, Thelma, I'm sorry. That guess is INCORRECT. The actual cost, to you, of a one-year supply of Sustiva would be ... at least ... three-thousand, nine-hundred and forty-two dollars."

Audience: "Awwwww."

Host: "... and fifty-six cents. But you won't be going back to Little Rock empty-handed. In appreciation for your participation on our show, we do have for you: a tape of affirmations by Marianne Williamson, a six-month membership in the Little Rock Church of Religious Science, and a discount coupon for your local Caskets R Us."

Thelma: "Thank you, Bob. I'll sure put those things to use."

Host: "Aww, isn't she precious, ladies and gentlemen? Wes, now it's your turn. What would the annual cost of Sustiva be for you?"

Wes: "Uh ... nothing?"

Host: "That's RIGHT, Wes! Not even a one-penny co-pay! You win!"

Audience: "Yaaaaayyyyy."

Host: "And because we KNOW there would be no point in giving you a prize that you can score for free through your swank insurance benefits, what do we have for Wes to take home to West Hollywood, Johnny?"

Announcer: "Wes, you'll be the envy of your HIV-infected friends when they see you drive to your WeHo pharmacy and pick up your free meds in style ... in this BRAND-new ... 1999 SPORT UTILITY VEHICLE!"

Host: "Let's give Wes a big hand, audience. Shucks, now we're out of time. Tune in next time to see another pair of have-and-have-nots compete to survive on ...'The Price Is Rigged'!"

This article has been reprinted at The Body with the permission of AIDS Project Los Angeles (APLA).