You’ll be able to get PrEP for free soon

A blue PrEP pill
Photo: Shutterstock

A new program spearheaded by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has been created to expand access and use of pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) drugs across the U.S.

The program, called “Ready, Set, PrEP,” will make PrEP available at no cost to those without coverage for prescription drugs.

Related: Soon you won’t need a prescription for PrEP in California 

“Ready, Set, PrEP is a historic expansion of access to HIV prevention medication and a major step forward in President Trump’s plan to end the HIV epidemic in America,” said HHS Secretary Alex Azar via a press release.

There are approximately 38,000 new HIV infections in the United States annually according to the December 3 Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR) from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). According to Azar, 1.2 million people are at risk of being infected with HIV in the United States.

PrEP has been shown to reduce the risk of contracting HIV from sexual contact by about 99% when taken as directed.

“PrEP is highly effective in preventing HIV infection when taken as directed,” said Assistant Secretary for Health Brett Giroir. “It is a critical tool for ending the HIV epidemic, but to make an impact it has to be available for people who need it most. Ready, Set, PrEP will increase access to this effective and preventive drug for people at risk.”

According to Azar, however, only about 18% of Americans at risk of HIV had PrEP prescriptions last year. Many have not sought out the drug due to the high cost of the medication in the U.S., which can run about $20,000 yearly.

This is where the “Ready, Set, PrEP” program comes in.

Under the program, Gilead will provide PrEP to the government free of charge, but the government must pay related costs, such as determining eligibility, processing claims, and distribution. This will run the government roughly $200 per bottle for a 30- or 60-day prescription.

That cost to the government will go down by the end of March as the government phases in a distribution network with CVS Health, Rite Aid, and Walgreens, which have indicated that they will forego their dispensing fees.

To qualify for the program, one must test negative for HIV, have a valid prescription for PrEP, and not otherwise have prescription drug coverage. While the cost of all medications would be fully covered for those who qualify, the costs of clinical visits and lab tests would be dependent on an individual’s income, and may incur fees.

The program is also part of a broader initiative called Ending the HIV Epidemic: A Plan for America (EHE). which aims to reduce new infections in the US by 75% in five years, and 99% in ten years.

But to achieve that goal, experts calculate that 50% of people who are at risk for HIV need to be on PrEP. With only 18% currently on PrEP, 200,000 more people on PrEP won’t be enough by itself to reach that goal.

The “Ready, Set, PrEP” program also doesn’t halt the government’s patent infringement lawsuit against Gilead over the company’s brand name Pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP), Truvada.

Those who wish to take part in “Ready, Set, PrEP” can visit GetYourPrEP.com or 855-447-8410 toll-free to see if they qualify.

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