A proposed federal policy aims to protect older Americans from contracting HIV by offering free preventive medication, the latest effort to catch up to much of Europe and Africa in stemming the spread of the virus.
Under the plan from the Biden administration, Medicare would cover patients’ full cost of preexposure prophylaxis drugs, which prevent HIV transmission. The drugs, known by the shorthand “PrEP,” would be free in pill form and — for the first time — as long-acting injectables through the government insurance program designed for those 65 and older. Those 50 and over make up half of all people in the U.S. already living with HIV.
The proposed policy change represents a big shift because it means that even new long-acting injectable versions of PrEP drugs, which can cost more than $20,000 a year in the U.S., would be covered fully, without requiring patients to kick in copayments. It is not yet clear what the plan would mean for taxpayers, though, either in paying for the medications or in offsetting the costs of caring for fewer Medicare patients with HIV in the future.
The final green light for the plan was expected Oct. 10, but the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services announced it is still working out details of how to transition coverage for patients already taking the drugs.
The U.S. is decades behind nations in Europe and Africa that are on track to end new HIV infections by 2030. But while the proposal should bring down infections in older Americans, it highlights remaining inequities: Many people under age 65 will still struggle to pay for PrEP. And, at the same time, Republican congressional leaders have threatened to cut funding for a federal HIV prevention effort championed by the Trump administration that is intended to help all at risk.
“We’ve done a very poor job in the U.S. of assuring that people who cou …