There have been tears in my HIV clinic lately — tears of joy from patients expressing the relief and security of having health insurance coverage for the first time thanks to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.
This World AIDS Day, their joy and the ACA make me optimistic about our ability to get on track to end the HIV epidemic in Kentucky and eventually nationwide if the ACA is fully implemented.
Recent scientific advances in HIV treatment and prevention have made the vision of an AIDS-free generation possible. Effective HIV treatment is now available that allows people with HIV to live near-normal life spans. Additionally, there is clear and substantial evidence that when people with HIV are treated, they are significantly less likely to transmit the virus to others.
For too long, the advances in science have been tempered by the challenges that too many people with HIV face in accessing HIV care and treatment.
Nationally, of all people with HIV, fewer than 40 percent are in regular care and only a quarter are effectively treated.
The ACA, along with robust support of the federally funded Ryan White Program, will help us to end these disparities and effectively expand access to life-saving HIV care and treatment.
At the Bluegrass Care Clinic at the University of Kentucky, we serve as the source of HIV care and treatment for 63 counties in Central and Eastern Kentucky. Thanks to the Ryan White Program, we have been able to provide lifesaving care to patients with HIV for the last 23 years, regardless of whether they have insurance.
We now care for more than 1,200 people with HIV — an increase of 136 percent over the last decade. Without health reforms like the ACA, our doors would have trouble staying open to everyone in need of HIV care.
In October alone, our clinic enrolled 100 patients either into Kentucky's Medicaid expansion or through Kynect, Kentucky's state-run marketplace. We expect to enroll at least 500 more patients during open enrollment.
Doing so will provide our patients with a stable source of coverage to help them access HIV and non-HIV medical care. And with the ongoing federal support, we can continue to offer the comprehensive care necessary to effectively manage HIV infection as well as expand our reach to people with HIV in the surrounding counties.
Kentucky is a shining example of the promise of the ACA. I am proud of my state for embracing the health care law and of our early enrollment success. On this World AIDS Day, I hope others will commit to making the law work everywhere and to maintaining the Ryan White Program.
The tears of joy from my soon-to-be-insured patients remind me that they and the other nearly 700,000 uninsured Kentucky residents deserve no less.
Dr. Alice Thornton is chief of Infectious diseases at the University of Kentucky Medical Center and co-chair of the HIV Medicine Association's Ryan White Medical Providers Coalition.