Kemp signs bill creating PrEP trial program in Georgia

Gov. Brian Kemp signed a package of healthcare bills into law, including one that creates a pilot program to provide PrEP to people at high risk of contracting HIV.

The Republican-sponsored House Bill 290 was the second measure he’s signed this year to address Georgia’s worst-in-the-nation HIV epidemic.

Kemp (photo) signed the bill during a ceremony at the Newnan location of the Cancer Treatment Centers of America on April 25, according to the Rome News-Tribune.

“Today, we signed healthcare legislation into law to improve access, lower costs and increase the quality of care for countless Georgians — no matter their zip code,” Kemp said in a press release. “By giving cancer patients access to the treatment they desperately need, incentivizing competition, removing bureaucratic obstacles to quality care, and establishing innovative pilot projects to combat debilitating illnesses, Georgia will continue to lead on healthcare.”

HB 290 would create a three-year pilot program to 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 three-year program will cost $300,000, according to a fiscal note.

Kemp called PrEP “state-of-the-art medication” during the signing ceremony.

Rep. Sharon Cooper, a Republican from Marietta, introduced HB 290 in the House in February. The House passed it on March 1 and the Senate passed it on March 29.

Cooper and Rep. Park Cannon, a Democrat from Atlanta and one of the five openly LGBTQ members of the legislature, stood behind Kemp as he signed HB 290 into law. Cannon sponsored an identical version of HB 290 in 2018, but it failed to make it out of the House.

“Just like that, HB 290 is officially Georgia law!” Cannon wrote on Facebook following the ceremony. “Thank you to all of the community, legal, legislative and health partners who made HIV prevention a priority this session. Stay tuned as our next step is to appropriate funds to our PrEP pilot program and get to #TreatmentAsPrevention!”

“We will continue to do this work, across the aisle and in the thick of it, to bring #BetterSolutionsForABetterGeorgia!” she added.

HB 290 was part of a package of HIV legislation introduced by House Republicans this year. A bill that creates a needle exchange program that would help reduce HIV rates passed both chambers, and Kemp signed it into law on April 2. A bill to make it easier for HIV-positive Medicaid recipients to receive the most effective medications passed unanimously in the House but got held up in the Senate over cost issues. It will return in 2020.

A bill that would modernize Georgia’s HIV laws, which activists say are outdated and stigmatize people living with HIV, was introduced on the final day of the session. It will also return in 2020.