Specifics: Obamacare and HIV

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From Think Progress By Tara Culp-Ressler

new brief from the Kaiser Family Foundation reports that President Obama’s health care reform represents a significant step forward for Americans with HIV, helping to expand health insurance to many HIV-positive individuals who would be “otherwise unable to access affordable and stable health care coverage.” Representing hugely important tactics to continue addressing the HIV/AIDS epidemic, several of Obamacare’s provisions will have a directly positive impact on the estimated 1.1 million Americans who live with the HIV virus:

  • Obamacare will prevent insurance companies from denying HIV-positive Americans coverage simply based on their HIV status. The health care reform law prohibits insurance companies from discriminating based on pre-existing conditions, including HIV. Before Obamacare, Americans living with HIV often struggled to find insurance companies willing to take them on — according to the Kaiser Family Foundation, just 13 percent of HIV-positive individuals were covered under private insurance in 2010.
  • Obamacare’s expansion of the Medicaid program helps low-income Americans with HIV who otherwise wouldn’t qualify for coverage. Over 40 percent of HIV-positive Americans accessed their health insurance through the Medicaid program in 2010, and expanding Medicaid even further will extend additional coverage to this community. Furthermore, under Obamacare, HIV-positive individuals do not have to have to be diagnosed with AIDS as a precursor to qualifying for Medicaid coverage. Although this was an old eligibility requirement for the program, the health reform law ensures the states that accept Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion will not have to impose this restriction on Americans living with the HIV virus.
  • HIV-positive Americans will no longer reach limits on the amount of treatment their insurance companies are willing to cover. Obamacare eliminates lifetime coverage caps and phases out annual limits, which will help all Americans with chronic conditions — including the Americans who rely on treatment for HIV infections — continue to be able to afford the care they need without reaching an arbitrary cut-off set by their insurance companies.
  • HIV testing will likely be covered under Obamacare. This year, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force is expected to recommend routine HIV screenings as a part of regular preventative care, similar to a routine blood pressure test. Since the health reform law requires insurers to cover the preventive services recommended by the Preventative Services Task Force, a new standard for HIV testing could ensure that it becomes a standard part of annual check-ups. The Centers for Disease Control estimates that about 20 percentof the total population of Americans who are infected with HIV don’t know they have the virus, so regular tests that don’t incur an out-of-pocket expense could help encourage more Americans to learn their status.
  • Since Obamacare helps close the prescription drug coverage gap for Medicare beneficiaries, HIV-positive individuals will be more likely to afford their drug treatments for the virus. By closing the “donut hole,” or the gap in coverage for expensive prescription drugs under the Medicare program, Obamacare will help ensure that older Americans living with HIV aren’t unable to afford any of the 26 antiretroviral drug treatments that can be used to combat HIV infections. Twelve percent of Americans with HIV relied on Medicare for their health coverage in 2010, and that number may rise significantly as the population of HIV-positive Americans continues to age.
  • Obamacare increases resources for HIV research and prevention. The health care reform law allocates $10 billion over ten years for a new fund that focuses on prevention, wellness, and public health activities. In 2010, $30 million from that fund was awarded to the Centers for Disease Control for HIV prevention activities, including new investments in HIV surveillance and testing among high-risk populations.

Rehberg’s Anti-LGBT Record

…is spelled out by ThinkProgress:

Rep. Denny Rehberg (R-MT)

In June, Montana Republicans nominated Rep. Denny Rehberg (R-MT) to challenge incumbent Sen. Jon Tester (D). Unlike Tester, a fairly reliable supporter of LGBT equality, Rehberg has opposed the LGBT community at every opportunity.

Over his time as Lt. Governor of Montana, his unsuccessful 1996 Senate campaign, his 12 years in the House of Representatives, and this Senate campaign:

1. Rehberg proudly pranked a fellow Congressman with a gay-mocking “Idaho Travel Package.” In 2008, after Idaho’s Sen. Larry Craig (R) plead guilty to lewd conduct involving a male police officer in a Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport restroom, Rehberg decided to leave a care-package for Rep. Mike Simpson (R-ID). On a congressional trip to the Middle East, Rehberg reportedlyleft “a stuffed sheep with gloves attached to it, a Village People CD, books on cross-dressing and sign language and a T-shirt that reads, ‘My senator may not be gay, but my governor is Butch.’” The governor of Idaho’s name is C.L. “Butch” Otter. A spokesman claimed “no offense was intended,” Rehberg boasted that he was proud of the travel package and “spent a bit of time putting the things together.”

2. Rehberg has consistently fought against marriage equality and even domestic partnership benefits for same-sex couples. In his Senate campaign kickoff, he told supporters: “I will never, ever, ever be ashamed to stand for the life of the unborn child and the sanctity of traditional marriage.” He has indeed shown no shame, votingtwice for a federal constitutional amendment requiring “marriage in the United States shall consist only of the union of a man and a woman.” He also voted for a 2011 amendment reaffirming the unconstitutionalDefense of Marriage Act (DOMA), a 2007 amendment restricting the District of Columbia government from using any federal funding to provide domestic partnership benefits, and a 2004 bill of questionable constitutionality to strip federal courts of the right to review whether DOMA is unconstitutional. In May, he reiterated his support also for his state’s same-sex marriage ban, saying “Montana’s state constitution says ‘Only a marriage between one man and one woman shall be valid or recognized as a marriage in this state,’ and I agree.”

3. Rehberg railed against hate crimes protections for LGBT Americans, calling them “extremist.”….

There’s much more. AND a video.

If you’ve needed some clearly spelled out reasons to deny this man the Senate seat the Tea Party is so desperately seeking to claim, click the link below.

Rehberg’s anti-LGBT Record.

 

Hard Truths (About Gay Men & HIV)

From NAPWA’s Positive Voice Newsletter:

National Gay Men’s HIV/AIDS Awareness Day – NGMHAAD – is coming September 27, three months to the day after National HIV Testing Day, and hard on the heels of July’s landmark International AIDS Conference (IAC) in Washington, D.C. We have two messages this year: Be aware, know your risk, and, Let’s end this epidemic! Because we matter – and we can.

Speaker after speaker at IAC returned to this year’s good but challenging news: yes, we still need more science to stamp out HIV – more and better antivirals, an effective vaccine, and a functional cure – but we already have all the biomedical tools we need to make new HIV infections a thing of the past. The hard part is reaching “key populations” – groups with high rates of existing infections and new infections because they have been marginalized, stigmatized, denied civil rights, and excluded from health care.

NGMHAAD is for one of those “key populations:” this country’s men who have sex with men (MSM). NAPWA founded NGMHAAD in 2008 because we want them to know the epidemic isn’t over. We want them to know how high their HIV risk really is – because so many are already infected, and too many don’t know it. And we want them to know that we’ve come a long way since AIDS was first reported in 1981, and even further since Stonewall, but stigma is still driving this epidemic and gay men don’t have to take it anymore.

So let’s look at some numbers and see what that the gay men’s HIV epidemic looks like in the U.S.

The July 28 issue of The Lancet opened an admirable series of articles on HIV among gay men worldwide with a look at epidemiology, and reported that HIV prevalence among men who have sex with men in its North American region is a jaw-dropping 15.4% – almost one in six. The real prevalence may be a little lower – The Lancet assumes that only 3.7% of American men are MSM, a number we think is too low, and raising the estimated number of MSM would reduce the calculated prevalence a little – but it’s still clear that prevalence is breathtakingly higher among MSM than in the rest of the population.

Let’s calculate just how much higher.

About 251 million Americans are 15 or older. If 5 percent of the men are MSM, we have 6.3 million MSM and 245 million “others” 15-and-older in this country. We’re all familiar with the CDC’s estimates that 1.2 million Americans are living with HIV, and 60% of them are MSM. That gives us 480,000 infections in 245 million “others,” for a prevalence of 0.2% – one in five hundred. It also gives us 720,000 infections in 6.3 million American MSM, for a prevalence of 11.5% – just shy of one in eight. HIV prevalence among American MSM is almost 60 times what it is in the rest of the population.

That means HIV-negative MSM who are active with partners whose status they don’t know are at much higher risk than many realize. So the first and most important message of National Gay Men’s Awareness Day is – simply – be aware. Know your status. Know your risk. If you aren’t absolutely sure you know your own and your partner’s status, keep your condoms handy.

In September 10’s Positive Voice, we’ll write about how we got to where we are and what’s needed to deal with the MSM epidemic on the ground. Why near-universal testing is so important when prevalence is already so high. The need to confront stigma and talk frankly about sex in communities where this is deeply uncomfortable. The need for pride and love. The need to have culturally competent and welcoming health care for MSM.

And in the September 24 issue, just three days before NGMHAAD, we’ll remember the quarter-million (at least) American MSM who have died of AIDS and examine our responsibility as their survivors to demand action to end this epidemic once and for all. Now that we can, we must.

Red Ribbons And Mosquitos

Yesterday, a friend sent me the following:

“Today I saw this headline:

West Nile Outbreak Largest Ever, 41 dead

and it made me think of this:

Rare Cancer Seen In 41 Homosexuals

…and wondering about what makes a disease a crisis versus a judgment. The number of victims was the same.”

Indeed.

And to further the irony, the famous speech given by Mary Fisher to the Republican National Convention in 1992- 11 years after the rise of “gay cancer” was highlighted in a feature by the New York Times today:

TWENTY years ago this month, Mary Fisher took the stage of the Republican National Convention at the Houston Astrodome and delivered a 13-minute prime-time speech that was seen by many as a sharp rebuke of her party’s negligence in the face of the growing AIDS epidemic.

Mary Fisher in 1992 made what is considered one of the best American speeches of the 20th century.

Ms. Fisher, a mother of two young children who had worked in Gerald Ford’s White House, addressed the delegates as someone who was H.I.V. positive herself. “Tonight, I represent an AIDS community whose members have been reluctantly drafted from every segment of American society,” she said. “I am one with a black infant struggling with tubes in a Philadelphia hospital.” She added, “I am one with the lonely gay man sheltering a flickering candle from the cold wind of his family’s rejection.”

It was a speech that was both surprising and poignant. Few, including Ms. Fisher herself, expected that she would survive a disease that had already killed more than 150,000 Americans by the summer of 1992.

But Mary Fisher is still alive — and still taking issue with her political party.

As she should. The discrimination and loathing that prevented government intervention is still with us. It’s made itself known in issues of women’s health, gender inequity, transgender rights and the House defense of DOMA.

However, West Nile will probably not become the epidemic that AIDS did. Because mosquitos don’t discriminate.

They bite everyone.

 

HIV Gay/Bi Men’s Health Retreat

When:  September 14 – 16, 2012

Where:  Helena, MT

Cost:  FREE

Registration Deadline:  September 7, 2012

• Experienced facilitators and educators • Great workshops on accessing resources  • Safe and confidential space

To Register, CLICK HERE, or if you have Questions, call:

FDH & Associates ● 406.829.8075 Or email: fdh@mtgayhealth.org

HIV In Prison

FYI:

  • More than 2 million people are incarcerated in jails and prisons in the United States.
  • People who are incarcerated are at increased risk for acquiring and transmitting HIV.
  • The correctional setting is often the first place incarcerated men and women are diagnosed with HIV and provided treatment.

People who are incarcerated are at increased risk for acquiring and transmitting HIV and other infections. Correctional health, public health, and community-based organizations need to improve HIV prevention and care for incarcerated populations through 1) routine HIV screening and voluntary HIV testing within prisons and jails and 2) other effective prevention strategies, including those that address inmates’ transition back into the community. Correctional institutions can be important partners in preventing and treating HIV to protect and improve inmate and community health.

More here.

Gay Men Are Flunking The Test

Also published on Bilerico.com

Yesterday, I posted an article about  a press release by the Journal Of The American Medical Association:

“…all adult patients, regardless of CD4 cell count, should be offered antiretroviral therapy (ART), according to an article in the July 25 issue of JAMA, a theme issue on HIV/AIDS. Other new recommendations include changes in therapeutic options and modifications in the timing and choice of ART for patients with an opportunistic illness such as tuberculosis.”

This follows the “treatment as prevention” model, based on the scientific research that people with HIV on antiretroviral therapy- with an undetectable viral load- are 96% less likely to pass on the virus.
us-statistics-2.jpgThis seems to be very good news. If you have HIV, you should find out early, get on meds and you’ll have a better chance of living a longer healthier life.

So what’s the problem? The problem is twofold:

  1. People at risk aren’t being tested: 20-25% of all HIV-infected people don’t know they have it.
  2. People at risk are still not being tested: Gay and Bisexual men of all races are the most severely affected by HIV

That’s not a typo- they’re basically the same reason, but there’s a difference. Any guesses?

Hint: It’s probably why most gay men won’t even read this article.

20-25% of all people with HIV don’t know they have it. Why not?

Here’s my take: Denial is one of the strongest mechanisms in the human psyche. It is fed by lack of information, by avoidance and by a strong desire for an alternative reality. If you’ve had unprotected sex, you’ve probably engaged in the process of denial. You’ve probably downplayed the risk, probably lied to yourself a little. You may have even gone over and over it in your mind, seizing every opportunity to deny the possibility of trouble.

“He looked okay”; “He didn’t seem sick”; “He pulled out”; “He would have told me if he had HIV”, etc, etc, and etc.

Well, we all know where that goes…. As individuals, we’re not facing facts. If we were, we’d be getting tested.

us-statistics-1.jpgGay and Bi men of all races are the most severely affected by HIV. Of course. We know that. Don’t we?

Again, denial applies. Gay and Bi men aren’t talking about HIV anymore. Our friends aren’t dying, so there’s no reason to be concerned. People with HIV aren’t out- aren’t well-known in our communities. Why? I was once told “You don’t need to harp about HIV all the time- it’s not that big of a deal.” Except that it is.

HIV has complicated my life in ways many people can’t believe. I am on catastrophic health insurance through the state- almost three times as expensive as my partner’s insurance. I get assistance for my meds- which cost about $25,000 a year- but (crazily), I can’t make more than $30,300 and still qualify for the program. I have joint pain, sleep issues, battles with depression, fatigue and a body that is aging at several times the normal rate– most probably due to inflammation- the hallmark of HIV disease. And yet, if I talk about this to friends or family, I’m seen as a whiner or someone trying unnecessarily to worry people I care about. It’s the “shut up- at least you’re not dying” defense. I know several HIV+ people who haven’t told anyone of their status, mostly because it’s “uncomfortable”.

No shit.

As a community, we’re not facing facts. If we were, we’d be talking to our friends about the importance of maintaining our health. We’d be talking about the hard reality of HIV.

But we’re not. Denial still holds sway, both individually and as a community. We’re lying to ourselves- we’re lying to each other- and infection rates stay the same.

We have a chance to change this trend. But only if everyone with HIV starts treatment, gets into care. This recommendation of the AMA may help with that. But it’s not up to doctors, nurses and social workers, it’s up to us.

We’re being tested, both as individuals and as a community. The problem is, we’re flunking.

Because we’re not showing up.

(Images source)