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HIV prevention drugs, once available only at a steep price, can now be had for free

HIV prevention drugs.
HIV prevention drugs.
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Two medications used to prevent people from getting HIV have saved thousands of lives, but they were also expensive.

The drugs are now available at no cost, thanks to provisions contained in Obama Care.

Dr. Chen-Illamos runs a program focused on HIV education and prevention through a non-profit called "Open Door," in Westchester, New York.

He often speaks to his patients about Descovy and Truvada, medications often known as PrEP, that for years have helped prevent HIV.

“When taken every day it’s up to 99.7 percent effective in preventing HIV,” said Chen-Illamos, the associate medical director for Open Door.

Originally, the high cost of PrEP left these drugs out of reach for many, but that has changed.

Provisions in the Affordable Care Act, which was the signature accomplishment of former President Barack Obama, require that most insurance plans cover their cost as preventative care, as well as the cost of clinic visits and lab tests associated with the treatment.

“For patients who don't have health insurance, a generic form of Truvada is also available.

Experts say it is just as effective and safe as the brand-name version and can be found for as low as $40 a month, said Lisa Gill, an investigative health reporter for Consumer Reports.

Still, experts worry that some people who could benefit from the drugs may continue to go without.

That's especially true forBlacks and Hispanics, who according to the CDC, are much more likely than whites to be diagnosed with HIV but much less likely to talk with a healthcare provider about the drugs.

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“Many of our patients might not even know this medication exists," CHen-Illamos said. "So, it’s our job in the community as clinicians, as physicians to talk to our patients about PrEP and help them access that in such a way that is affordable to them and they feel that they can continue this medication for prevention."