The Massachusetts Senate voted Thursday, the last day of LGBTQ Pride month, to advance a bill that would significantly expand access to preventative HIV care.
The legislation, which passed by voice vote and was sponsored by state Senator Julian Cyr, would allow pharmacies to dispense a 60-day supply of HIV pre-exposure prophylaxis, or PrEP, without a prescription. The proposal also would require pharmacists to link customers with a primary care physician for ongoing medical care and PrEP oversight.
“PrEP has been a game changer in HIV prevention,” said the Truro Democrat, who says he uses the medication on a regular basis. “We are trying to do everything we can to expand access to PrEP and to create more avenues to reduce HIV transmission. But there has been significant barriers.”
PrEP is a daily pill that reduces the risk of HIV transmission by close to 100 percent, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
While Massachusetts has been successful in reducing new HIV infections, the state’s health department says the HIV transmission continued at a rate of approximately 640 new cases per year from 2014 to 2018.
While PrEP is highly effective, advocates say it is underutilized, especially among uninsured or underinsured communities, and communities of color.
Similar legislation passed the Maine Legislature last year, following other similar bills in California and Colorado.
Cyr’s bill will now go to the House for consideration.
“Even in a state like Massachusetts, there are still huge disparities in who has access to medical care at all,” said Ben Klein, a senior attorney and AIDS Law Project Director at GLAD. “This bill creates an important new avenue for people to obtain PrEP and get access to this extraordinary public health breakthrough . . . this bill will open up a whole new path to obtaining PrEP quickly and easily without the fear of going to a doctor’s office.”
The House does not have its own version of a PrEP access bill, but does include language in its fiscal year 2023 budget that would allow minors to get access to preventative care for diseases the state health department has designated as having public health importance, such as HIV, without parental consent.
As the law currently stands, minors can get tested for HIV and be treated for HIV without parental consent, but cannot access preventative care like PrEP.
“The challenge has been that while PrEP is transformative in preventing HIV, not enough people have had access to it,” Klein said.