Under fire, Publix reverses decision denying coverage for HIV prevention drug


Publix announced Tuesday that it would reverse itself after coming under fire for denying preventative HIV drug coverage to one of its employees in Metro Atlanta. 

>> Read more trending news  

The drug, Truvada PrEP, is more than 95 percent effective in preventing the contraction of HIV, which can result in AIDS. It’s typically prescribed to HIV-negative gay men and those at high risk of infection.

“If everyone took PrEP, there would be no more HIV. It’s that potent, that strong,” Dr. Scott Parry with Intown Primary Care, one of the top providers of PrEP, told WSB-TV.

>> Related: 9 facts about HIV/AIDS everyone should know

The issue came to light when a website, The Body, reported that the former employee was denied coverage. Since 2015, Fulton County Board of Public Health’s HIV prevention program has prescribed Truvada for PrEP 255 times, said Dr. David Holland, chief clinical officer for communicable diseases for the program. Holland confirmed to AP that the former Publix employee, a Georgia resident, had been denied coverage — the only such case he'd seen. 

Publix did not respond to the Associated Press’s calls and messages last week.

Human rights groups spoke out against the chain, calling its denial for PrEP insurance coverage discriminatory.

>> Related: Despite progress, Atlanta’s HIV epidemic is worse

“It is not a stretch of the imagination to think that this could actually be a discriminatory practice that targets members of the LBGT community for their sexuality,” Jeff Graham with Georgia Equality told Channel 2.

However, following a meeting with Publix officials to address the issue, Florida state Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith, D-Orlando, an openly gay legislator, took to Twitter Monday to detail how the talks went. He wrote that company officials confirmed the decision to deny coverage but wouldn’t say if it “was based solely on cost or some absurd moral objection they have to PrEP.”

Publix responded early Tuesday, and said it had reconsidered its decision and would cover the drug. “We regularly evaluate what is covered by our health plan and have made the decision to expand our health plan’s coverage of Truvada to include Pre-exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP),” the company tweeted. “We are working with our pharmacy benefits manager to implement this change.”

>> Related: New study on STDs finds Georgia among ‘most diseased’ states 

"I think they know and understand that this is the right thing to do for their employees," Smith said.

According to HIV specialists and gay rights groups, the drug is almost universally covered by large employers who provide prescription drug coverage for their workers. Gilead Sciences, its manufacturer, estimated U.S. usage at 120,000 people last year.

The average lifetime cost of treating a person who becomes HIV positive at 35 is $449,000, and that doesn’t include treating anyone else the person might infect, according to Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

>> Related: The silent epidemic: Black gay men and HIV 

"Whether or not it is illegal, it is misguided from both a health perspective and an economic perspective,” Scott Schoettes, HIV project director at gay rights organization Lambda Legal, said. “You don't have to be a rocket scientist to know that it is better and cheaper if someone isn't infected.”

The Associated Press contributed to this story.


Reader Comments ...


Next Up in Nation & World

Deaf, pregnant woman with service animal says she was punched on flight
Deaf, pregnant woman with service animal says she was punched on flight

Video shows a confrontation that erupted after a deaf pregnant woman said a man punched her and her service dog as their Frontier flight was taxiing to a gate at Orlando International Airport. The family of the man said it was all a misunderstanding. Hazel Ramirez admits that her fiancé, Matthew Silva, tackled Timothy Manley in the terminal...
Woman arrested after bragging on police Facebook page about getting away with crime
Woman arrested after bragging on police Facebook page about getting away with crime

A 19-year-old woman who bragged on a police department’s Facebook page about getting away with a crime has been arrested.  Officers with the Moses Lake Police Department in Washington said the woman, identified as Kayla Irizzary, was contacted as a passenger during a traffic stop. She was released from the scene with no legal reason for...
Royal Wedding: Meghan Markle, Prince Harry wed (live updates)
Royal Wedding: Meghan Markle, Prince Harry wed (live updates)

Actress Meghan Markle and Britain’s Prince Harry got married Saturday in a highly anticipated, star-studded ceremony in St. George’s Chapel at England’s Windsor Castle.  Update 6:21 a.m. EDT Sunday: The British royal family took to Twitter late Saturday to congratulate Prince Harry and Meghan Markle and thank their guests...
'Royal wedding guest name' quiz could help scammers get your personal data
'Royal wedding guest name' quiz could help scammers get your personal data

A seemingly innocent quiz that has been sweeping social media could help scammers get their hands on your personal data, experts say. "What's your royal wedding guest name?" the meme, which began circulating ahead of Saturday's royal wedding, asks. One version reads as follows: "In honor of the royal wedding, use your 'royal wedding...
2 inmates escape Ohio prison, still at large, deputies say
2 inmates escape Ohio prison, still at large, deputies say

Law enforcement is asking for the public’s help to find two Ohio prisoners who escaped Saturday night from the Community Correctional Center in Turtlecreek Township. Deputies from the Warren County Sheriff’s Office responded around 8:30 p.m. to the area of 5234 State Route 63, the CCC, for a report of two men running through a...
More Stories