Arkansas HIV/AIDS Task Force Considers Recommending That Insurers Be Required To Cover People Living With Disease
The Arkansas HIV/AIDS Minority Task Force on Monday considered recommending to state lawmakers that insurers be required to provide coverage for people living with the disease, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reports (Frago, Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, 7/15).
The 19-member task force was formed in January by Gov. Mike Beebe (R) to examine HIV/AIDS among the state's minority populations and ways to strengthen HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment among blacks, Hispanics and other minorities in the state. The task force will hold a series of meetings in the state's four congressional districts to hear public comment on the issue, as well as to discuss HIV/AIDS incidence among minorities and the efficacy of current programs. The committee will be responsible for submitting a report of its findings and recommendations to Beebe, leadership in the state House and Senate, and Arkansas' Department of Health by Nov. 1 (Kaiser Health Disparities Report, 6/12).
Task force chair Rick Collins said that the insurance recommendation is a "good idea" but that it is "something we'll have to discuss more." Wallace Thomas, associate medical director at Arkansas Blue Cross Blue Shield, said that it is surprising that there is no state mandate requiring insurers to provide coverage for people living with HIV/AIDS. "I was, quite frankly, shocked that it was not (mandated)," Thomas said, adding that state law requires insurance carriers to cover FDA-approved cancer drugs. Although all insurers operating in Arkansas voluntarily provide HIV/AIDS coverage in their policies, uninsured people living with the disease would have difficulties obtaining insurance when they seek coverage, Thomas said. He added, "I won't say it's impossible, but it's remote." In addition, companies with fewer than 50 employees might establish conditions of coverage, such as not covering medical expenses associated with HIV/AIDS during the first year of employment, according to Thomas.
Michelle Smith, a physician who attended the task force meeting, asked why it should not be mandatory for carriers to treat existing HIV/AIDS patients. "Since they're already doing it voluntarily, it would basically be symbolic," she said. Thomas replied that he would "have no problem with that."
In addition to the meeting held on Monday, the task force held a forum in Little Rock last month, and another is planned for Thursday. In addition, forums are scheduled in August and September (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, 7/15).