I love sex. And I’m unashamed to say I have a lot of it, and with various men and women, many of whom are HIV-positive. However, I only feel comfortable having sex with HIV-positive folks because I strictly adhere to my daily Truvada-as-PrEP regimen in addition to using condoms (as an additional layer of protection from HIV and other sexually transmitted infections). I would be way too nervous to have sex with a poz person, even with condoms, if I wasn’t on PrEP.
But, I’m not perfect. I get too drunk, I can’t maintain my erection with a condom on, or I get lost in the heat of the moment and say, “Screw it. Let’s go raw!” Shit happens, and I’m not going to shame myself — or anyone else — who periodically goes condomless. We’re all human.
Still, we want to do our best to mitigate risk. We also want to be fully immersed in the moment. There’s nothing worse than losing your erection right as things are getting hot and heavy, because the thought enters your head that this could be the time you contract HIV.
This is why I take PrEP and have been doing so for over a year: So I can have this peace of mind. So I can be empowered sexually. So I can live my life without fear while dating and sleeping with people regardless of their status.
That’s why I was devastated when I learned, after days of researching insurance plans, that I couldn’t afford PrEP this year. I was sitting at my desk, taking deep breaths, attempting to calm myself down. Telling myself that I’ll just have to be 100 percent on it with my condom use. Telling myself that my life won’t change that drastically. Telling myself I’d be OK.
But I knew they were all lies. I know me. I make mistakes, and without PrEP, I wouldn’t be able to have the unabashed sex life that I’ve grown accustomed to — and love. I also knew that I’d have to stop seeing a specific HIV-positive guy because I couldn’t psychologically handle sleeping with him without PrEP.
But I didn’t want to admit defeat. Staring at my laptop screen, I started considering other options. I suddenly remembered reading that Gilead Sciences — the pharmaceutical company that makes Truvada — has a patient assistance program.
I did a quick search, which took me to the Gilead Advancing Access Co-pay Program. The website made it seem simple: Just call Gilead and see if you’re eligible. The only exclusion is if you’re enrolled in a state or federally-funded prescription drug program (e.g., Medicare). It seemed too good to be true.
I didn’t hesitate, and in under 60 seconds I was talking to a live person. I told the woman my dilemma, and she told me not to worry. I provided the insurance plan I had decided on for 2017, along with my name, address, and all the usual information. I asked what exactly the co-pay program covers. She said up to $3,600 worth of Truvada per calendar year. For me, this covered the total yearly cost, as it would have cost me about $2,500 that year, even with my insurance plan. I thanked her profusely, while she emailed me my card info. Six days later, I received the physical card in the mail. The day after I went to my pharmacy.
I handed the pharmacist my card, as instructed, and twiddled my thumbs while the pharmacist called Gilead. Four minutes later, I paid a whopping zero dollars for 90 little blue pills. Then the pharmacist apologized to me. She said because of my insurance, she must call Gilead every time I fill my prescription, as a matter of protocol. But I don’t have to worry about ever being rejected.
My mouth dropped. I was in complete shock. It had all been so easy. No hassle. Literally nothing with insurance companies has ever been this simple in the history of mankind.
I’m not alone in my fears of getting HIV, and I’m not the only one out there who can’t afford Truvada, the only drug currently approved for pre-exposure prophylaxis. While it’s undeniably frustrating that Truvada isn’t yet generic, at least there is this simple, affordable option for those of us who want to have the peace of mind and sexual freedom that comes with popping that blue pill daily.
Even better? You can now enroll online. I just tested it out. It takes less than five minutes. Enroll at Bit.ly/GileadCoPay.
ZACHARY ZANE is a Boston-based writer whose work focuses on (bi)sexuality, gender, identity politics, relationships, and culture. He’s been featured in The Washington Post, Cosmopolitan, Out, PRIDE, The Huffington Post, and Bisexual.org.