- Under the Affordable Care Act of 2010, employers are required to fully cover certain preventive services.
- But a new Texas ruling has found that the coverage of certain services, such as pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP), violates employers’ rights under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
- If this decision is upheld, experts say it would undermine efforts aimed at preventing countless diseases and conditions, including HIV.
Affordable health care in the United States lags far behind other developed nations and is especially difficult to achieve for certain racial minorities and low-income Americans. , things can get even worse.
Federal Judge Reed O’Connor on Wednesday overruled a key provision of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) to prevent HIV patients from incurring out-of-pocket costs.
A judge ruled that the provision violated the Religious Freedom Restoration Act by requiring people to provide compensation for going against their faith or personal beliefs. This decision is expected to be challenged, and overall he has 13 million Texans and her more than 150 million Americans with employer-sponsored health insurance. jeopardize decisions about
taller than Costs and additional barriers for patients
Even before Wednesday’s decision, most Americans vulnerable to HIV infection were using PrEP at disproportionately low rates. was prescribed in 25%. This is up from his 3% in 2015. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), coverage is not equal.
White Americans account for 66% of PrEP coverage, while Black Americans account for 6% of coverage and Latinos account for 16% of coverage. This is despite blacks and Latinos accounting for 42% and 27% of new HIV diagnoses in 2021. White Americans account for 26% of new HIV diagnoses.
Gays, bisexuals, and other men who have sex with men are at highest risk of HIV, especially in the black and Latino communities. HIV also particularly affects black women, transgender women, and people who inject drugs.
In 2019, heterosexual men accounted for 7% of new HIV diagnoses, and heterosexual women accounted for 16%.
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New HIV infections are also concentrated in the South, and Americans generally lack affordable access to HIV and sexually transmitted reproductive health care, contraception, abortion, and gender-affirmation care. In Texas, more than 22,000 of her people were prescribed her PrEP in 2020, and more than 123,000 were at high risk of HIV.
A monthly supply of brand-name PrEP is about $2,000 without insurance, while the generic version is $30-$60 per month. Most insurance packages provide medication for free.
If the ruling is upheld, the communities most vulnerable to HIV infection, many of whom already face discrimination and stigma, will be tasked with overcoming another financial barrier to access to preventive treatment. will be , told Changing America.
Halkitis is a public health psychologist who has focused most of his research on infectious diseases and is the founder and director of the Center for Health, Identity, Behavior and Prevention Research at Rutgers University.
“What you don’t want to do is put up another obstacle, and if that other obstacle is currently financial, it’s even more likely that uptake will decline,” Halquitis said. rice field.
Economic burden on workplaces and workersEconomy
The new ruling could make health care more expensive for workers, employers and the economy, says Halkitis.
That’s because it’s ultimately cheaper to prevent HIV than to treat it, and managing chronic illness is more costly to employers than preventative services. Companies will spend more to cover chronic diseases like HIV than they would to cover preventive care as well. This is an incentive not only to keep costs down but also to ensure employee health.
“If you remove PrEP, part of the workplace will be infected with HIV,” said Halkitis. “So you end up paying for medicine for the rest of your life. It’s a clear argument to urge this judge to uphold access to PrEP.”
The Texas decision also risks paving the way for employers to deny coverage for preventive services they perceive as violating their religious beliefs, such as affordable access to cancer and heart disease screening. jeopardize access.
“To me, it speaks to the need for a more universal healthcare system in this country,” Halkitis said. “Where this kind of decision is not made by employers, where decisions about my health are made by me and not by the person I work for, where people who need a job fear the influence of their employer. A place where you can get a job without having to tell me who to have sex with, how to have sex with you, and what to do with your body.”
HIV and the future of preventive medicine
It’s unclear whether the ruling will be enforced outside of Texas or if employers are challenging the ACA clause, but it will have significant implications for preventive care of all kinds.
In his decision, O’Connor ruled against requesting coverage for other preventive services such as screening for colorectal and other cancers, depression, and high blood pressure.
Texas’ decision not only affects the ACA, but could also affect the country’s goal of eliminating new HIV infections by the end of 2020.
In the lawsuit, Texas employers argued that paying for health insurance that covered PrEP could “promote or encourage homosexual behavior,” and that “they would be forced into monogamous relationships with their respective spouses.” Yes,” “Neither they nor anyone in their family has been involved in HIV-transmitting behavior.”
However, access to PrEP does not lead to homosexual behavior, Halkitis noted, likening it to discussions in the 1990s that argued that the placement of condoms in schools encouraged teenage sexual activity.
“The idea of making someone gay just because you gave them medicine to keep them from getting sick is probably the most ridiculous, anachronistic, homophobic and utterly theocratic form of sexual identity. way of thinking,” he said.
HIV can be passed from positive mothers to children and through sharing needles.
Especially since the introduction of PrEP and other viral suppression drugs that keep patients from transmitting the virus, the rate of new HIV infections has declined, especially in high-infection areas like New York.
In 2019, the administration of former President Trump introduced a plan to eliminate HIV transmission in the United States by 2030.
But if the decision is upheld, it could undermine its mission, saying that “the goal of zero new HIV infections by 2030 would be completely and utterly unrealistic.” said Halkitis. “This is the last thing we need to do to bring this virus under control.”