Although for the past year the world’s mind has been on a new pandemic, there is an older one which still affects many people globally. A new bill proposed in Oregon aims to increase access to preventative medicine by changing requirements for insurance companies.
House Bill 2958 would allow pharmacists to prescribe and administer preventative HIV medicine, and require that insurance cover such a prescription in the same way as one from a physician.
Currently the law says that pharmacists “may be” reimbursed for these medical services. According to the Oregon State Pharmacy Association though, most insurers either don’t reimburse pharmacists or do so on a very low pay level. This bill would require insurers to cover the drugs and administration without prior authorization, to the same degree as outlined in their normal benefits.
The two drugs in question for this house bill are known as PrEP, or preexposure prophylaxis, and PEP, or post-exposure prophylaxis. With the help of this bill, the drugs will hopefully be more easily available to at-risk people and people who have been exposed to HIV.
Although cases of HIV, especially new cases, are on the decline in recent years, there is still significant stigma surrounding the disease which can make it difficult to access aid. Only 40 years ago the disease was first discovered and coined “Gay-Related Immune Disease” as it was prevalent in American gay communities in the 80s.
The stigma related to the disease was compounded because it is transmitted sexually or through exchange of blood between bodies, meaning in addition to its prevalence in the gay community it was common among intravenus drug users who shared needles. Because of these societal stigmas, the pandemic was addressed much more slowly than it may have been otherwise.
Although we live in a different society than we did in the ‘80s, many of the same stigmas that used to surround HIV are still present today. One of HB 2958’s main sponsors and a gay man himself, Rep. Rob Nosse of Portland, pointed to this injustice and stigma. He stressed, “We still need to take action to prevent the spread of HIV.”