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White House Announces Program To Distribute Free HIV-Prevention Medication


President Trump has a plan to end HIV in America by 2030. And today, administration officials announced the first real-life program to help them get there. The program will provide a free HIV prevention drug to people who are at risk and who don't have prescription drug coverage. Without insurance, the drug costs more than $20,000 a year. NPR's Selena Simmons-Duffin has more.

SELENA SIMMONS-DUFFIN, BYLINE: Over a million people are at risk for HIV infection, according to government estimates. But only a fraction of them are on PrEP, or preexposure prophylaxis. Truvada is the PrEP drug that's been on the market for years now. The idea is you take this daily pill, and then if you're exposed to HIV, you won't get infected. It's very effective. It doesn't have a lot of side effects. But then there's the monthly price tag.


DANIEL O'DAY: The current list price is 1,780 in the United States.


SIMMONS-DUFFIN: That's Daniel O'Day testifying before Congress in May. He's CEO of Gilead, the drug company that makes Truvada. A generic is available overseas for around $6 a month. The program announced today doesn't change that U.S. price tag. Instead, it allows certain people to get the drug for free. Here's Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar talking to reporters this morning.


ALEX AZAR: To receive medication through the program, an individual must have no prescription drug coverage, test negative for HIV and have a valid on-label prescription for PrEP.

SIMMONS-DUFFIN: Azar says taxpayers will initially pay Gilead $200 per bottle for distribution. He said they're trying to find a cheaper system. This all comes at a bit of an awkward moment for the government and the drugmaker. Last month, HHS sued Gilead over patent infringement.


AZAR: We are now in litigation. Gilead has filed against us. We have filed against Gilead. This is not related in any way.

SIMMONS-DUFFIN: Prevention efforts with PrEP and other tools like condoms and clean needle programs are only part of the plan to end the HIV epidemic. It also calls for more HIV testing and for people who test positive to be on treatment. Nearly 40,000 people get infected with HIV every year. That works out to about 100 every day. And those numbers haven't budged in years.

Selena Simmons-Duffin, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Selena Simmons-Duffin reports on health policy for NPR.