HIV scare brings confusion over what hospitals can do for the uninsured

KANSAS CITY, Mo. - A Kansas City man who is HIV positive exposed his sexual partner to the disease during intercourse. The couple went to the emergency room at The University of Kansas Hospital, only to find out the medicine the Centers for Disease Control recommends a person to take within hours of being exposed was only covered under health insurance.

What is an uninsured person to do?

This man exposed to the virus shared his story under the condition of anonymity. He did reveal his identity to Mitch Weber, who -- with the man's permission -- received a copy of his many medical records from the day that changed his life.

"There is no question that I was exposed to HIV that day, no question," he said.

After he had unprotected sex with a man, they both went to a drug store and got rapid HIV tests.

"He tested HIV positive and I tested HIV negative. I told him, 'Look, it's okay because there is this alternative that exists. We can go to a hospital, we can go to an ER and I can take a pill and it will stop me from contracting this disease,'" he explained.

The man believes the doctor he spoke with at the ER kept him from the life-saving medicine because he is uninsured, but the hospital argues their hands were tied.

"They were willing to provide a prescription, but unfortunately I didn't have the $3,000 to pay for the medications, and I don't have insurance," he said.

Dr. Lee Norman, a hospital spokesperson, discussed the specifics of this case with 41 Action News after being given permission to do so by the patient.

"In an ideal world, we would love it if we just had those unlimited resources to do that," Norman said of providing the preventative drug to the uninsured.

According to the CDC, the post-exposure prophylaxis (also called PEP) is effective in stopping the spread of HIV if the treatment begins within hours of exposure. The CDC says there is a very small window -- 72 hours -- to get treated from the moment of exposure to prevent infection.

"We take all the variables into consideration," Lee said.

The hospital said they refer anyone who needs the treatment but can't afford it to The Kansas City Care Clinic, which many times can provide the medicine for free. But the clinic said that depends. For someone who is uninsured, it will still cost between $600 and $700 dollars for PEP.

Just this week, Matt Rice started PEP Angels, an organization in the process of waiting for the nonprofit status. This organization could have helped the young man pay for the meds.

"At that point we send out a red alert to all of our HIV/AIDS donors," said Rice.

Rice sees PEP Angels becoming the first point of contact for anyone who finds themselves exposed to HIV.

"It costs about $3,000 to $5,000 to pay for a complete PEP regimen. It costs $2 million to keep somebody alive who has HIV for 50 years -- to stop somebody from every getting HIV takes between $3,000 to $5,000," said Rice.

Luckily for the young man who felt he was turned away from the treatment because he is uninsured, he was able to get a prescription from an unnamed Kansas City doctor.

"Taking this medication for two weeks absolutely saved my life," he said.

Hospital officials said one of the exceptions they make to providing a three-day sample of PEP to someone who is uninsured is when it involves a minor who was exposed to someone who is HIV positive.

Hospital officials also said abstinence or the use of a condom are the best ways to prevent the spread of HIV.

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