Georgia House passes PrEP bill to tackle HIV epidemic

A bill that would create a three-year pilot program to provide free PrEP medication to those at high risk of contracting HIV passed overwhelmingly in the Georgia House on Friday.

State Rep. Sharon Cooper (top photo), a Republican from Marietta who sponsored the legislation, cited the fact that Georgia is the number one state in the nation in the rate of new HIV infections.

“We are reaching a crisis level. In fact, some would say we are in crisis,” she said when introducing the bill from the House floor.

“[The bill] is one step … in stopping this horrible epidemic that is all over our nation,” she added.

The bill passed 129 to 19 and will now go over to the Senate for consideration.

House Bill 290 would provide PrEP to people in counties identified by the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention as at risk of HIV outbreaks due to a high rate of opioid use. PrEP is the use of a once-a-day pill taken by HIV-negative people to reduce the risk of infection. PrEP reduces the risk of HIV infection by up to 92 percent, according to the CDC.

The Georgia Department of Public Health would establish and manage the pilot program, and Cooper said they’ll draw valuable data at the program’s end. The program could be expanded statewide from there.

“What keeps people from taking [PrEP]? Is it because they’re homeless? Is it because they don’t want to come in and have their blood drawn for the test that must go along with it?,” she said, listing the answers they want to find. “What are the barriers to helping people at high risk for developing HIV from taking [PrEP]?"

The CDC will decide on the areas of the state where the pilot program would be conducted. Cooper said the program will cost between $50,000 to $300,000 for the entire three years.

State Rep. Park Cannon, who sponsored an identical bill in the 2018 legislative session, applauded Friday’s outcome.

“This bill is an example of two years of bipartisan leadership,” she told Project Q Atlanta. “Special thanks to Chairwoman Cooper and other legislators for joining together to focus on this HIV and opioid challenge impacting our state."

HB 290 in one of several HIV bills making their way through the legislature. 

A bill creating a needle exchange program to help reduce HIV rates in Georgia passed in the House on Monday and heads to the Senate for consideration.

A bill that would make it easier for HIV-positive Medicaid recipients to receive the most effective medications passed in the House on Feb. 19 and had a hearing before the Senate Health & Human Services Committee on Monday. No vote was taken on the bill.

Rep. Jasmine Clark, a Democrat from Tucker, is still waiting for a committee meeting to address her bill that would ensure the state’s K-12 students receive accurate information about HIV during sex-ed classes. Cooper is the chairperson of the committee on which the bill sits.