Co-Paying the Piper

By: Marcus J. Hopkins, Blogger

One of the biggest changes for many lower income patients under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) has been the transition to paying co-pays for their medical care. For patients living with HIV, this has been exceptionally difficult in states whose Ryan White Part B programs – the AIDS Drugs Assistance Programs (ADAPs) – have opted to pay for their clients’ insurance premiums, rather than simply directly paying for services as they’re administered. What this means for patients is that, where they once never had to worry about doctors’ visits or paying for medications, depending on their state of residence, they may not be responsible for paying co-pays for services.

To the average American with a stable, if thinly stretched, income, this may not seem like a big deal; but, to those of us living with HIV/AIDS on fixed or fluctuating incomes, this distinction may create an additional barrier to care that may not have existed, prior to now. It can be difficult to explain to people how, when one’s income is already low, paying $20-$30 for a visit to the doctor requires foregoing other basic necessities such as food or a utility bill put off until later; paying $100 for your HIV medications every month can mean that you no longer have enough to afford rent.

People who live without a chronic disease often fail to see the hardships presented with treating that disease. Outside of simply the cost of treatment, there are additional social and emotional issues at play. Having to rely on government assistance for any reason is frequently derided in our nation as a weakness; a moral failing that renders the recipient incapable of taking care of themselves. As such, there is often a guttural sense of shame and humiliation that accompanies having to rely on these assistance programs. It is this component that is so often left out of the conversation.

More than just the psychosocial aspect of seeking assistance, the reality is that, when a patient discovered their HIV-positive status, they are often unaware of the options that exist, in the way of coverage. Now that people with pre-existing conditions can no longer be barred from insurance coverage, many simply assume that private insurance is the only option available to them. In states where Medicaid services have not been expanded to include coverage for people living with HIV, many patients are unaware of the existence of the Ryan White or ADAP programs that are in place to provide assistance for lower income patients who cannot afford the cost of treatment.

Even with these programs in place, their assistance does not meet the Federal requirement for insurance coverage, and clients whose incomes are higher than the maximum allowed for exemption from the penalty for not having private insurance are often left to foot that bill, as well. This is one of several reasons why many ADAP programs are switching their coverage over to paying for private insurance, rather than a direct payment model.

For lower-income patients still having trouble paying for treatment, even with insurance, Patient Assistance Programs (PAPs) exist that can help to partially or totally defray the costs. These programs are, however, largely unknown to people outside of the “know,” as it were – if you don’t “know” about them, you don’t know about them, and oftentimes, you only find out about them through random word of mouth. Sadly, many ADAP programs’ employees are unaware of these programs, and aren’t able to provide adequate information about either their existence or the requirements for applying.

One such program – the Patient Access Network (PAN) Foundation – has long served this purpose for people who are underinsured living with HIV. The maximum award level is $7,500 per year. Patients may apply for a second grant during their eligibility period subject to availability of funding.

Unfortunately, funds available through this program have been depleted. As of March 14th, 2016, patients seeking assistance for HIV are being encouraged to go to the Patient Advocate Foundation (PAF) for assistance. Individuals who have been recently approved for grants through the PAN Foundation will not be affected. When needing additional assistance or to re-enroll, individuals are encouraged to check back with PAN to determine if the fund has been re-opened and/or to seek additional support through PAF.

LOGO: Patient Advocate Foundation

While the funds at PAN for HIV assistance have been exhausted for 2016, there are still funds available for patients who are mono- or co-infected with HCV at both PAN and PAF; one only needs to apply separately for assistance with that specific condition, as funds for HIV drugs do not carry over to HCV without an additional application.

Additionally, it should be made clear that these programs are not designed for the uninsured; rather, they are designed for the underinsured – those who carry some form of insurance, but for whom co-pays are unaffordable. It is also crucial to understand that these programs cover only the costs associated with drug co-pays; office visits and other non-pharmaceutical costs are not covered, and are left up to the individual and/or the Ryan White funds allocated to their clients.

For more information about PAF, and how it differs from the National Patient Advocate Foundation, please visit www.patientadvocate.org.

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Disclaimer: HEAL Blogs do not necessarily reflect the views of the Community Access National Network (CANN), but rather they provide a neutral platform whereby the author serves to promote open, honest discussion about Hepatitis-related issues and updates. Please note that the content of some of the HEAL Blogs might be graphic due to the nature of the issues being addressed in it.

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