Dr Perry N. Halkitis: Health Care Access Is a Right

SAP Partners | <b>Rutgers School of Public Health</b>

The Supreme Court recently upheld the Affordable Care Act, under which HIV and AIDS are considered preexisting conditions, by a vote of 7 to 2.

For people living with HIV, not having the Affordable Care Act (ACA) would have limited their access to doctors and medications. There is no cure for HIV, so without the ACA, the disease would grow much more rapidly, stated Perry N. Halkitis, PhD, MS, MPH, dean, professor, and the director of the Center for Health, Identity Behavior & Prevention Studies at the Rutgers School of Public Health.


What were the potential implications for persons living with HIV and AIDS had the ACA have been overturned?

The decision was monumental, right, because the 3 decisions, over the course of the last few years, it was 5 to 4 then 6 to 3 and 7 to 2, right? So, it looks pretty clear to me that the Supreme Court is going to uphold the Affordable Care Act, which is great, because health care access is a right. It’s a right.

So for people living with HIV, not having the Affordable Care Act and having [protections for] preexisting conditions would mean that one, they would have limited access to doctors, limited access to medications. We have no cure for HIV. I know people believe that HIV is over, but it's not over. We have 40,000 new infections each year, there's 1.2 million people in the United States who are living with HIV. Without the Affordable Care Act to actually allow people to see doctors and to be on medications, which is what keeps them healthy, the disease would grow much more rapidly.

The other thing we also know very clearly about HIV is that when people are diagnosed and they are on treatment, and they are virally suppressed, they cannot transmit the virus. And so the benefit of having people have access to medications is also for prevention of the spread of HIV. So, undetectable is untransmittable, it's something that we worked on for years, this slogan. So it would have been devastating to our effort to fight HIV.

Is there a part of me that feels like 40 years into the battle with HIV, we should have a vaccine? Of course we should. We have 4 for COVID-19. And one can't help but wonder the extent to which the federal government of the United States would have rallied to develop a vaccine and cures at a faster rate if it wasn't marginalized people who were affected by HIV.

If it wasn't gay men, if it wasn't Haitians, if it wasn't injection drug users. If it was the general population that was affected by [HIV], I wonder if the response would have been much more rapid. But I think there are a lot of activists out there who are thinking the same thing and who are, you know, a little angry about that.