Publix is reversing itself on PrEP.
The Florida-based supermarket chain, under fire for refusing to cover drugs used in the HIV prevention strategy known as pre-exposure prophylaxis, sent out a series of tweets today saying the company has decided to add the coverage.
"Publix appreciates the concerns shared by our associates and customers. We offer generous health coverage to our eligible full-time and part-time associates at an affordable premium and are committed to the health and well-being of our associates and their families," the company tweeted. "We regularly evaluate what is covered by our health plan and have made the decision to expand our health plan’s coverage of Truvada to include Pre-exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP). We are working with our pharmacy benefits manager to implement this change as quickly as possible."
Truvada, which is also used in HIV treatment, is currently the only drug approved for use as PrEP by HIV-negative people. If taken daily, it is nearly 100 percent effective in preventing HIV infection, studies have shown.
Last week it was reported that Publix had denied PrEP coverage to an Atlanta employee, and Monday company officials met with Florida state Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith. They confirmed that they had denied the coverage, Smith tweeted:
I met with @Publix's government relations team about their refusal to offer insurance coverage for PrEP, the HIV prevention pill for their employees. Here's how it went. #Sayfie pic.twitter.com/nKvKTDDsCM
— Rep. Carlos G Smith (@CarlosGSmith) February 6, 2018
Publix employs 188,000 people in its 1,169 stores, nine distribution centers, and 11 manufacturing plants, all located in the southeastern U.S. Many of the states in which is operates have high HIV rates.
There have been several reports of anti-LGBT discrimination at the company over the years, according to Florida news outlets. A cake decorator at a Publix store who said he was fired for being gay filed a complaint with the Broward County, Fla., Human Rights Board a few years ago, resulting in the board ordering Publix to pay him $100,000, but the decision was subsequently reversed.
The company has a zero rating on the Human Rights Campaign’s Corporate Equality Index, as it has refused to fill out HRC’s questionnaire. Mary Beth Maxwell, HRC’s senior vice president for programs, research, and training, released this statement: "It is a positive step forward that an employer as large as Publix will now offer PrEP to its employees as part of their health care coverage. Publix has locations predominantly in the South, where HIV disproportionately affects the population, making this decision all the more impactful and necessary. We hope this decision by Publix will inspire other large employers to think seriously about ensuring that their health plans address all employees' needs."
Nadine Smith, CEO of Equality Florida, posted on the group’s blog thanking all those who brought attention to the issue, with special thanks to Guillermo Smith and the Equality Florida staffer who met with Publix officials. “Thanks to Publix for responding to the voices from the community and making this critical change in policy,” she added.
The Advocate has sought comment from Publix but has received no response so far.