AIDS/HIV prevention advocate: Medicaid and telemedicine are saving lives

People are still getting sick

And not just from the coronavirus. COVID-19 has placed unprecedented pressures on hospitals and clinics, but it has not stopped people from contracting other illnesses. Pregnant people still need prenatal services. People with long-term conditions like HIV and cancer still need regular check-ups. When people are unable to see their doctors for fear of contracting COVID-19, Medicaid and telehealth save the day.

Medicaid has given 2.2 million North Carolinians the power to engage in telemedicine and continue to receive adequate treatment. This is especially impactful for rural communities where medical providers are scarce. Even the smallest and most rural of counties have seen more than 1,000 of their community members receive Medicaid benefits.

Unfortunately, not many are aware that they have these benefits or that they have access to telemedicine. Quarantine may convince many to shirk their health needs in an effort to protect themselves from this potentially fatal virus, but telemedicine proves that this does not have to be their only option. The Department of Health and Human Services is working to make telemedicine policies permanent so that even after COVID-19 has become a memory, those in rural counties or without adequate transportation can continue to engage in care.

Although social distancing orders are still in effect, those of us who are feeling starved for touch still seek ways to meet these needs. The mission of HIV prevention does not take a break in spite of COVID-19. Again, telemedicine comes in to save the day, with Tele-Pre Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) appointments providing those on PrEP or seeking to start PrEP with a chance to engage or continue care without fear of losing protection. In addition to PrEP, telehealth would also increase and provide quicker access to Post Exposure Prophylaxis (PEP) for those who would need it.

As we get closer to discovering a vaccine for COVID-19, PrEP continues to make medical progress. With injectable PrEP having passed several clinical trials and COVID-19 limiting medical access, we have a better idea of how its implementation can change many factors. With injectable PrEP, seeing physicians and pharmacists would become less frequent, preventing further spread of airborne illnesses with less frequent medical visits, and creating more scheduling vacancies for patients in need of other medical services. For those who live in rural areas, this means less money spent traveling to and from hospitals. This allows people using Medicaid, specifically those with limited income, to dedicate extra time and money not spent on medical care, but towards other needed areas, like food, rent/mortgage, and child-care.

Medicaid and telemedicine are not the sole answer to repairing the holes in our medical system and the way we access it, but they do alleviate many barriers to receiving quality medical care for those in need. If we work together to inform those receiving Medicaid about the avenue of telemedicine, we can get more people into care and reduce the transmission of airborne illnesses such as COVID-19.

De’Shea Coney (pictured at left) works at the N.C. AIDS Action Network.

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