Kamala Harris Announces New Bill to Expand PrEP Access

Associate Editor
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Sen. Kamala Harris may be busy running for the 2020 Democratic presidential candidacy, but she's still at work trying to make sure people can get access to pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP).

In a press release Thursday, the California senator announced that she will introduce the PrEP Access and Coverage Act. The legislation, if passed by Congress, will guarantee insurance coverage for PrEP and create a grant program to fund access to PrEP for those who are uninsured.

The legislation requires all public and private health insurance plans to cover PrEP, as well as the lab tests and visits required as part of the regimen, without a copay. The grant program will help states, territories, and tribal communities with the cost of PrEP for those who lack insurance, including the medicine itself as well as aforementioned associated health care costs.

"PrEP is a critical advancement in the fight against HIV that can finally provide peace of mind to Americans who live in the shadow of the HIV epidemic. But for too many in our country, lack of insurance coverage and exorbitant costs have put PrEP out of reach -- and that needs to change," Harris said in an email. "We must truly commit ourselves to HIV prevention by finally requiring every health insurance plan -- public and private -- to cover PrEP and all of the required tests and follow-up doctor's visits. We must also provide the resources necessary to help people without insurance access PrEP. Nearly four decades since the beginning of the HIV/AIDS crisis that took so many lives and caused countless others to live in fear, we can and will stop the spread of this disease."

Aside from making sure costs of the drug are covered, the PrEP Access and Coverage Act would also fund a public education campaign about the regimen to highlight its efficacy and fight stigma.

Harris' announcement comes a week after the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force's June 11 recommendation that all people at risk of acquiring HIV take PrEP, meaning private insurance companies will have to cover the drug -- but not necessarily the associated doctor's visits -- by January 2021. Harris says her plan goes a step further by requiring public insurance plans like Medicare and Medicaid to cover the regimen and associated health care costs.

In a quarterly report filed to the Securities and Exchange Commission in May, Gilead announced that it would allow a generic version of Truvada (FTC/tenofovir disoproxil fumarate) to come to market in September 2020. It granted the sole rights to one manufacturer, Teva Pharmaceuticals, which led some advocates to point out that the agreement may not lead to that great of a price reduction, given the exclusivity contract with Teva.

Prior to the announcement, Gilead faced increasing scrutiny for its profits from Truvada. In 2018, the company made $3 billion off the sales of the drug, despite the research for Truvada as PrEP having been paid for by taxpayers and the government holding the patent.