Ready, Set, PrEP

Ready, Set, PrEP
Expanding Access to HIV Prevention Medication
by Hank Trout

On December 3, 2019, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) launched Ready, Set, PrEP, a nationwide program to provide pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) available for free to people who do not have prescription drug insurance coverage.

Recognizing that PrEP is a safe, highly effective means of reducing an individual’s risk of acquiring HIV, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommend PrEP for those at risk. More than one million people in the U.S. could benefit from taking PrEP; however, only a small fraction of that population has access to it. Ready, Set, PrEP is intended to be a key component of the Ending the HIV Epidemic: A Plan for America (EHE) initiative, which aims to reduce new HIV infections in the United States by 75 percent in five years and by 90 percent in ten years. By eliminating the cost for people who have no health insurance, the Ready, Set, PrEP program can provide PrEP to those individuals and bring the U.S. closer to ending the HIV epidemic.

The Department of Health and Human Service’s Health Resources and Services Administration’s Health Center program will support the Ready, Set, PrEP program by working closely with healthcare professionals at more than 12,000 service sites and 1,400 health centers nationwide.

To qualify for Ready, Set, PrEP, people must test negative for HIV, have a valid prescription for the medication, and not have prescription drug coverage. All medications are fully covered for qualifying participants; however, the costs of necessary clinic visits and lab tests may vary depending on an individual’s income. People can find out if they qualify by visiting or calling toll-free 855-447-8410.

To support the expanded access to PrEP, CVS Health, Walgreens, and Rite Aid pharmacies have agreed to donate their dispensing services to HHS. Thus, beginning no later than March 30, 2020, qualified patients can obtain the PrEP medications at no cost at more than 21,000 CVS Health, Walgreens, and Rite Aid locations throughout all fifty states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands; they will also make PrEP available through mail order. These pharmacies, which combined account for about a third of all pharmacies in the United States, will also provide patient counseling and promote adherence to the regimen.

“Ready, Set, PrEP is a historic expansion of access to HIV prevention medication and a major step forward in [the] plan to end the HIV epidemic in America,” said HHS Secretary Alex Azar in a prepared press release. “Thanks to Ready, Set, PrEP, thousands of Americans who are at risk for HIV will now be able to protect themselves and their communities… [C]onnecting members of vulnerable communities to prevention services and medication is an important part of the President’s initiative.”

Assistant Secretary for Health Brett P. Giroir, M.D. stated that “PrEP is highly effective in preventing HIV infection when taken as directed. 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.”

Glen Pietrandoni, Walgreens

Glen Pietrandoni, Senior Director, Patient Care and Advocacy at Walgreens, told A&U, “As a leader in providing care to the HIV community for more than thirty years, we were contacted by HHS in early November to discuss how we might be able to help the goals stated by the federal government to end the HIV epidemic by 2030.

“Walgreens has already trained all pharmacy staff about HIV prevention and stigma,” he continued, “and will build upon these efforts to reinforce and enhance our pharmacy expertise to include the Ready, Set, PrEP program. Additionally, we continue to promote PrEP with targeted marketing and PR campaigns, highlighting access for all patients regardless of their socio-economic status and our support with adherence. Current examples are the Greater Than AIDS campaign and year-round testing events, which offer free HIV testing in high-risk communities and opportunities to educate participants about access to PrEP and related government programs.”

Hank Trout writes the column For the Long Run for A&U.