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Many health plans now must cover full cost of expensive HIV prevention drugs


 

Q: Are all three drugs covered without cost sharing?

Health plans have to cover at least one of the drugs in this category — Descovy and the brand and generic versions of Truvada — without cost sharing. People may have to jump through some hoops to get approval for a specific drug, however. For example, Oscar plans sold in 18 states cover the three PrEP options without cost sharing. The generic version of Truvada doesn’t require prior authorization by the insurer. But if someone wants to take the name-brand drug, that person has to go through an approval process. Descovy, a newer drug, is available without cost sharing only if people are unable to use Truvada or its generic version because of clinical intolerance or other issues.

Q: What about the lab work and clinical visits that are necessary while taking PrEP? Are those services also covered without cost sharing?

That is the thousand-dollar question. People who are taking drugs to prevent HIV infection need to meet with a clinician and have blood work every three months to test for HIV, hepatitis B and sexually transmitted infections, and to check their kidney function.

The task force recommendation doesn’t specify whether these services must also be covered without cost sharing, and advocates say federal guidance is necessary to ensure they are free.

“If you’ve got a high-deductible plan and you’ve got to meet it before those services are covered, that’s going to add up,” said Amy Killelea, senior director of health systems and policy at the National Alliance of State & Territorial AIDS Directors. “We’re trying to emphasize that it’s integral to the intervention itself.”

A handful of states have programs that help people cover their out-of-pocket costs for lab and clinical visits, generally based on income.

There is precedent for including free ancillary care as part of a recommended preventive service. After consumers and advocates complained, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) clarified that under the ACA removing a polyp during a screening colonoscopy is considered an integral part of the procedure and patients shouldn’t be charged for it.

CMS officials declined to clarify whether PrEP services such as lab work and clinical visits are to be covered without cost sharing as part of the preventive service and noted that states generally enforce such insurance requirements. “CMS intends to contact state regulators, as appropriate, to discuss issuer’s compliance with the federal requirements and whether issuers need further guidance on which services associated with PrEP must be covered without cost sharing,” the agency said in a statement.

Q: What if someone runs into roadblocks getting a plan to cover PrEP or related services without cost sharing?

If an insurer charges for the medication or a follow-up visit, people may have to go through an appeals process to fight it.

“They’d have to appeal to the insurance company and then to the state if they don’t succeed,” said Nadeen Israel, vice president of policy and advocacy at the AIDS Foundation of Chicago. “Most people don’t know to do that.”

Q: Are uninsured people also protected by this new cost-sharing change for PrEP?

Unfortunately, no. The ACA requirement to cover recommended preventive services without charging patients applies only to private insurance plans. People without insurance don’t benefit. Gilead, which makes both Truvada and Descovy, has a patient assistance program for the uninsured.

Kaiser Health News is a nonprofit news service covering health issues. It is an editorially independent program of Kaiser Family Foundation, which is not affiliated with Kaiser Permanente.

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