The Supreme Court’s Burwell v. Hobby Lobby decision and most recently bogus, so called “religious freedom” bills propping up in many states have the potential to unwind progress made for helping Americans needing medication for HIV treatment.
In much of the developed world, contracting the HIV virus is no longer a death sentence. The AIDS epidemic of the 1980s launched a movement to fight HIV through education on prevention methods as well as medical research that has subsequently made HIV a manageable condition.
One advancement is transforming how we fight HIV/AIDS. Pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) “Is a way for people who do not have HIV but who are at substantial risk of getting it to prevent HIV infection by taking a pill every day,” the CDC said.
The FDA approved the pill — whose brand name is Truvada — in 2012 after studies showed that taking the pill consistently reduced the risk of contracting HIV in HIV-negative individuals by 92 percent to 99 percent. Essentially, this pull has the potential to prevent new HIV infections for an entire generation with no memory of the dark days of the AIDS epidemic.
But in America when you take a step forward, sometimes you also take two steps backward.
Hypothetically, on the religious protection precedent established by Burwell V. Hobby Lobby, an employer could “seek exemption” and refuse to provide coverage for Truvada if their employee is gay and thus somehow places a burden on the owner’s ability to practice their religion.
Worse, an employer could also terminate an employee on suspicions of their sexual orientation if the employee requested their insurance plan to cover it, given gay men are culturally considered at higher risk of contracting HIV and a majority of states do not have bills banning workplace discrimination that include sexual orientation.
Burwell v. Hobby Lobby focused distinctly on birth control, but it’s not hard to see how the ruling could have implications on the denial of Truvada. Further complicating this is the fallacy that the prescription of Truvada will encourage widespread unsafe sex in the gay community. So if religiously-minded employers didn’t have enough reason to not want insurance to cover Truvada, then the nefarious idea that such protective medication will encourage further same-sex promiscuity is the cherry on top.
People’s health should not be subject to their employer’s viewpoints of their sex lives. It’s embarrassing that in America we continue to moralize issues that should exclusively be treated as what they are: matters of public health.
We shouldn’t allow corporations, no matter how Christian, to deny life-saving preventive care. Doing so would be continuing an epidemic we now have the tools to end.