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Want to Reduce HIV Nationwide?

Follow New York State’s Successful Model for HIV Treatment and Prevention

The recent call by the White House for a national initiative aimed at managing and preventing Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) was welcome news. Here in New York State, we know from firsthand experience that, with the right strategy and sufficient resources — including making health insurance and healthcare services accessible to people with HIV and those at risk for acquiring HIV — this goal is eminently achievable.

Last November, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced that New York’s “End the Epidemic” program had produced a 20% statewide decline in the annual rate of new HIV diagnoses since its launch in 2014. In 2017, the most recent year that we have complete data for, just 2,769 new HIV cases were reported in New York State — the lowest number since the AIDS epidemic began four decades ago.

In my company, VNSNY CHOICE Health Plans, our Medicaid special needs plan (SNP) for HIV-positive individuals and other at-risk populations has played a key role in New York’s successful effort to reduce transmission of HIV. Our plan, CHOICE SelectHealth (one of three such SNPs in New York State), has contributed to this downward trend by helping our plan members adhere to medication regimes that keep their HIV viral loads suppressed — protecting their own health while also eliminating the chance that their HIV can be transmitted to others. Our strong track record in this area is reflected in the fact that SelectHealth has exceeded New York’s quality benchmarks for HIV suppression for the past three years.

It’s important to stress, however, that the HIV reductions achieved in New York State are the product of a concerted effort to connect with and support New Yorkers who have HIV or are at risk of HIV infection. This includes the state’s establishment of Medicaid SNPs like SelectHealth, which connect their members with specialized provider networks with long experience in treating individuals with HIV, as well as a supplemental state program that supports additional outreach to SNP members who are at especially high risk of falling through the cracks, due to psychosocial issues and other factors.

The point is, to prevent HIV acquisition and transmission and finally bring the AIDS epidemic to an end, it takes the focused services of a coordinated healthcare network — including a comprehensive effort to diagnose people with HIV and connect them with plans like ours that are designed to successfully manage their care, as well as measures to make HIV-preventive Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) available to people whose behavior puts them at risk of contracting HIV.

To help New York’s “End the Epidemic” program reach the finish line, the Governor’s office has proposed further increasing access to Medicaid by raising the state’s income eligibility levels and removing any eligibility cap on liquid resources. At a time when some states are moving in the opposite direction and placing additional limits on Medicaid eligibility, we hope officials and legislators across the nation will take note of the important progress New York has made in reducing HIV rates by expanding Medicaid access and making a commitment to providing comprehensive, quality care. If we truly want to reach the goal set out in President Trump’s recent State of the Union address, then appropriate health insurance — administered by plans with special expertise in providing and coordinating care for those with the greatest needs — must be made available to everyone with HIV or at risk of acquiring it. Here in New York, the effectiveness of this approach has been proven beyond a doubt.

President of VNSNY CHOICE Health Plans at Visiting Nurse Service of NY, and a leading healthcare expert focused on elder independence.

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