In deal with Gilead, HHS announces plan to make free doses of Truvada available to uninsured

Qualified patients will be able to obtain PrEP at certain pharmacy retailers throughout the U.S. including no-cost delivery via mail. (Shutterstock/Marc Bruxelle)

The Trump administration is launching a program to provide free access to doses of Truvada, a drug that prevents against HIV, to people who are uninsured and at risk of being infected, officials announced Tuesday.

In a call with reporters Tuesday, Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Alex Azar announced the program called Ready, Set, PrEP under which individuals who have tested negative for HIV and have a valid, on-label prescription can access the pre-exposure prophylaxis, or PrEP, medication. 

Individuals can find a provider and sign up for the program at www.getyourprep.com or by calling the toll-free number 855-447-8410, he said.

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The drug is being donated by the drug's manufacturer Gilead Sciences in an 11-year deal with HHS. HHS will pay about $200 a bottle in distribution costs for the program up to a total of $6 million over six months to start, Azar said. He said HHS is working to set up a more economical distribution system in the future.

RELATED: HHS' Giroir on administration's HIV effort: Funding awards to begin as early as this summer

By March 30, CVS Health, Walgreens and Rite Aid will donate their pharmacy dispensing fees, which will help bring down the cost. Qualified patients will be able to obtain PrEP at those pharmacy retailers throughout the U.S. including no-cost delivery via mail, Azar said. He could not provide an estimated value of those donations.

Those companies will also provide patient counseling for the PrEP regimen and take steps to promote adherence. 

In May, Gilead first announced it would make up to 2.4 million bottles of Truvada available for free to uninsured Americans at risk of contracting HIV. The announcement is not connected to patent disputes between HHS and Gilead over the drug. 

This program is expected to benefit up to 200,000 patients a year and is part of the agency's broader work aimed at ending the HIV epidemic in the U.S. within the next decade, Azar said. According to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report released Tuesday, about 18% of the 1.2 million people who could benefit from PrEP had a prescription. 

RELATED: Trump calls for funding for HIV prevention, childhood cancer research at State of the Union

"We have the tools to stop the spread of HIV in its tracks. Now it's about the execution," Azar said. "Ending the HIV epidemic requires significantly increasing the number of Americans receiving PrEP by expanding access, lowering costs and decreasing stigma."

Ongoing HIV lab testing, which is required for individuals to qualify for Truvada, will not be covered. Azar said community health centers can usually make those services available at no charge to patients who do not have insurance coverage.

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