Drug that can stop HIV if used right away is costly

KANSAS CITY - A Kansas City man who is HIV positive exposed his sexual partner to the disease during intercourse. The two went to the Emergency Room at Kansas University Medical Center, only to find out the medicine the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends a person take within hours of being exposed was only covered under health insurance.

What is an uninsured person to do?

This man exposed to the virus shared his story under the condition of anonymity.

"There is no question that I was exposed to HIV that day, no question," he said.

After he had unprotected sex with a man, they both went to a drug store and got rapid HIV tests.

"He tested HIV positive and I tested HIV negative. I told him, 'Look, it's okay because there is this alternative that exists. We can go to a hospital, we can go to an ER and I can take a pill and it will stop me from contracting this disease,'" he explained. 

The man believes the doctor he spoke with at the ER kept him from the life-saving medicine because he is uninsured, but the hospital argues its hands were tied.

"They were willing to provide a prescription, but unfortunately I didn't have the $3,000 to pay for the medications, and I don't have insurance," he said.

Dr. Lee Norman, a hospital spokesman, said, "In an ideal world, we would love it if we just had those unlimited resources" to provide preventive drugs to the uninsured.

According to the CDC, the post-exposure prophylaxis (also called PEP) is effective in stopping the spread of HIV if the treatment begins within hours of exposure. The CDC says there is a very small window -- 72 hours -- to get treated from the moment of exposure to prevent infection.

The hospital said it refers anyone who needs the treatment but can't afford it to The Kansas City Care Clinic, which many times can provide the medicine for free. But the clinic said that depends. For someone who is uninsured, it will still cost between $600 and $700 for PEP.

Matt Rice who recently started PEP Angels, a Kansas City organization designed to help people with HIV, said it will become the first contact for anyone exposed to HIV and needing medication.

"It costs about $3,000 to $5,000 to pay for a complete PEP regimen. It costs $2 million to keep somebody alive who has HIV for 50 years," Rice said. 

The young man who felt he was turned away from the treatment because he is uninsured was able to get a prescription from a Kansas City doctor.

"Taking this medication for two weeks absolutely saved my life," he said. 

(Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service, http://www.scrippsnews.com)

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