Today, one of the biggest problems in caring for the 1.2 million Americans living with HIV is the crisis of access to affordable drugs.
One of the great moral issues of our day is that people with HIV and AIDS are suffering and, in some cases, dying in America because they can’t afford to pay the outrageous prices being charged for the medicine they need to live.
It is indefensible that even with insurance and rebates, a person with HIV must spend thousands of dollars per year just on prescription drugs — often leaving them unable to afford decent housing or other necessities — all while profiteering companies continue to jack up the price of these treatments overnight, simply because they can.
Instead of focusing on public health and the public good, drug companies are focused on padding the pockets of their shareholders and top executives. That has got to change.
In the richest nation in the world, we must not tolerate a health care system that offers the best care to the rich, while leaving everyone else to fend for themselves. We must do everything possible to end the greed of the pharmaceutical companies and get people the medicine they need at a price they can afford.
We must do everything we can to end the HIV and AIDS epidemic. The good news is that San Francisco, New York and other urban areas are making significant progress in combating HIV and AIDS.
The bad news is that nationally we have not seen an improvement in the 50,000 avoidable HIV infections that are taking place each and every year. Tragically, in some regions of the country, the epidemic has gotten even worse. In the year 2016, we have got to do much better than that.
We now have all of the tools we need to end AIDS deaths and HIV transmissions. Now, we need the political will to do it.
We must set a national goal of ending the HIV epidemic in the U.S. by the year 2025 so that HIV is no longer a public health threat to any community in the U.S. and that people with HIV are able to live long, healthy lives.
We must also appoint people living with HIV, community and public health experts and government officials to the HIV/AIDS Task Force to develop specific recommendations on how to successfully accomplish this goal.
The Prize Plan for HIV/AIDS
Bernie will fight to reform the existing patent laws written by and for the pharmaceutical industry to boost their profits and which make medicine so expensive in the United States.
To lower costs for HIV/AIDS drugs everywhere, Bernie has a plan that would establish a multibillion-dollar prize fund to incentivize drug development. This prize fund would replace our country’s broken system that drives drug prices up through government-sanctioned monopolies.
Bernie’s plan would provide virtually universal access to lower-cost life-saving medicines for HIV/AIDS as soon as they are approved for sale.
Under Bernie’s plan, innovation would be rewarded annually from a Prize Fund for HIV/AIDS therapies. The amount of money in the Prize Fund for HIV/AIDS would be more than $3 billion per year.
The Prize Fund would reward medical researchers and developers of medicines based primarily upon the added therapeutic value a new treatment offers and the number of people it benefits. Instead of a system where the market is manipulated to keep out all competition, companies would be rewarded for their innovation with a cash prize for their medical innovations, rather than through the grant of a monopoly. Under Bernie’s plan, drugs would have generic competition immediately after FDA approval.
In other words, this plan would break the link between drug development and the rewards for medical research and development. In doing so, we will reward true innovation, eliminate the market incentive for copycat drugs and get all HIV/AIDS treatments to the people who need them at generic prices.
The Prize Fund proposal would also be much cheaper than the current system, reducing the costs of the drugs to employers, taxpayers and patients by billions of dollars per year.
Bernie would also direct the Secretary of Health and Human Services to negotiate drug prices with pharmaceutical companies and reduce barriers to the importation of lower-cost drugs from Canada and other countries.
The United States is the only major country on earth that does not regulate prescription drug prices in some manner and the results have been an unmitigated disaster for patients and their families.
Bernie will take on the pharmaceutical industry that has been ripping off the American people and fight for legislation to lower the cost of lifesaving drugs. And by fighting to overturn Citizens United, he will make it easier for members of Congress to address the concerns of their constituents, not their wealthiest campaign contributors.
Universal Health Care
Bernie believes that health care is a right, not a privilege. To truly ensure every American has access to quality, affordable health care, Bernie is fighting for a Medicare-for-all, single payer system.
Until that happens, we must make sure insurance companies and providers are not discriminating against those with HIV/AIDS, including when it comes to drug coverage.
The Affordable Care Act was an important step forward on the road towards universal health care, and it has made some real advances—banning discrimination based on health status; eliminating bans on preexisting conditions; making health insurance affordable and accessible for millions who did not have it before. But we still have 29 million Americans without health insurance and millions more who are underinsured.
Those with HIV/AIDS or other chronic conditions should not have to fight with an insurance company in order to get the medication they need.
Expanding Substance Use and Mental Health Services for People Living with HIV/AIDS and at risk for HIV
We must build on the implementation of President Obama’s National HIV/AIDS Strategy by significantly expanding access to mental health and substance use disorder services by protecting and expanding community health centers, which provide key behavioral health and substance abuse services to more than 1.3 million patients. We must also support access to mental health services at community mental health centers.
Bernie will also fight to expand the National Health Service Corps, which provides scholarships and loan repayments for health care providers, including mental health providers, in underserved communities. And he will work to ensure these critical health care professionals are appropriately compensated for their important work.
Substance use counselors are uniquely capable of providing HIV prevention services to a patient population that may be engaging in behaviors that put them at risk for HIV infection. All substance abuse treatment centers should provide on-site HIV/AIDS testing. Today, fewer than half do.
Additionally, we must ensure that federal agencies, state and local health departments, and mental health agencies have the resources and training to provide screening and referral services for individuals living with HIV/AIDS and who are at risk for HIV.
Expanding the Ryan White HIV/AIDS Program
Bernie will fight to expand the highly successful Ryan White HIV/AIDS program which provides HIV-related services for those who do not have sufficient health care coverage or financial resources. It was unacceptable that at the height of the Wall Street crash, many states had long waiting lists for the AIDS Drug Assistance Program. Especially when so many people were losing their jobs and their life savings, people should not have had to wait for the life-saving treatment they needed.
Expanding Services for All—Prevention and Treatment Beyond Health Care
In the year 2016, it is unacceptable that a person could be fired or denied housing in many states based on sexual orientation, gender identity, or health status. Bernie would push for legislation that would expand civil rights protections to all LGBT individuals and those living with HIV/AIDS.
We must ensure that health providers, social services, law enforcement, and all other entities have proper resources and training to handle the varying needs of the communities they serve. Schools must be giving students age-appropriate, comprehensive sex education and all Americans should have access to scientifically-accurate information regarding HIV infection.
Bernie would also expand, not cut, the Housing Opportunities for Persons with HIV/AIDS (HOPWA) program that currently provides funding for housing assistance and related services for tens of thousands of low-income people living with HIV and their families.
Bernie will support proven, evidence-based policies to combat HIV and AIDS including treatment as prevention and pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP).
Expanding the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) and Ending the AIDS Epidemic
Bernie will fight to end the AIDS epidemic by doubling the number of people on HIV treatment worldwide by 2020.
The President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) has been an incredibly successful program, currently supporting antiretroviral treatment for more than 9.5 million people. But that is only a fraction of those worldwide who need treatment. More than 22 million people with HIV/AIDS do not have access to the medicine and support services they need. We must fight to substantially expand PEPFAR funding to increase access to treatment worldwide and to end the global AIDS epidemic by 2030.
Stopping Bad Trade Agreements like the Trans-Pacific Partnership that would substantially increase prices for HIV/AIDS drugs.
A major reason why Bernie has lead the fight against the disastrous Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is because it would significantly increase prices for HIV/AIDS drugs for some of the most desperate people in the world.
At a time when prescription drug prices are skyrocketing, the TPP would make a bad situation even worse by granting new monopoly rights to big pharmaceutical companies to deny access to lower cost generic drugs to millions of people.
According to Oxfam, over 125,000 in Vietnam alone — more than half of HIV/AIDS patients living in that country — could lose access to the medication they need to survive. That is unacceptable.
Here in the U.S, we still have work to do until everyone knows their status and those who need it are on treatment. Every patient should have an HIV test as part of their annual wellness visit; far too many people with HIV do not know their status, so any steps we can take to get people into treatment and cut down the number of involuntary transmissions will be worth doing. The sooner we normalize an annual HIV test, the better. But a test is not enough—providers should work with patients to identify those at risk who may not know they are at high risk, especially women with potentially high-risk partners. Patients should learn about prophylaxis options or all other appropriate measures, and these visits should be fully covered by health insurance.
We all must work together so we can finally realize the goal of an AIDS-free generation.