Today on World AIDS Day we’re offering insight from Todd Grove, Manager of Colorado’s AIDS Drug Assistance Program. On Nov. 7, 2017, Grove gave a presentation during a congressional briefing on the 340B drug discount program’s role in fighting the HIV/AIDS epidemic.
I have been living with HIV for 30 years and I guess you could call me a 340B success story. Back in the early days of the epidemic, I was able to access HIV medications and Ryan White HIV/AIDS Program services. Most of my friends did not and they did not survive.
Today, someone who is living with HIV can be on a drug regimen that will reduce their HIV viral load to a point where it is undetectable. That means they are likely to lead a longer and much healthier life. It also means they are not able to transmit the virus to a partner. This remarkable development gives us hope that the end to this epidemic is in sight.
HIV medications have gotten better and better, but they are extremely expensive. In my role as the manager of the State of Colorado’s AIDS Drug Assistance Program (ADAP) I see how the high cost of drugs prevents far too many people living with HIV from gaining access to treatments that will change the course of their lives. The 340B program is absolutely essential to getting people access to those medications. When the epidemic began, Colorado had the nation’s longest waiting list for HIV medications. You couldn’t join the program unless you made less than $22,000 a year – HIV drugs cost $17,000 a year. The 340B program has allowed us to clear that backlog and get HIV drugs to everyone in Colorado who needs them.
The 340B program has also allowed us to be more active in getting clients health insurance. Before the Affordable Care Act, HIV was one of the conditions that made it virtually impossible to get insurance. Thanks to the ACA and the 340B program, there are now only about 350 persons living with HIV in Colorado who are not insured.
We’ve reinvested some of our 340B program income into mental health and substance use treatment. The 340B program is helping us open facilities in rural western Colorado where it is not uncommon for someone to have to travel over six hours to see an infectious disease clinician.
We are really turning a corner where we might be able to see an end to this epidemic. The 340B program has played a key role in that and it is desperately needed for the public health of this country. I worry that opponents of this program are looking for ways to scale it back and poke holes in the health care safety net that protects people living with HIV and other life-threatening conditions. I hope that our leaders in Washington will see through those arguments and protect this vital lifeline.