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Local News

Patient groups in Georgia want antivirals available at no cost for high risk of severe COVID-19


Ellen Eldridge, GPB News

Patient groups want antiviral treatments more available to Georgians at risk from COVID-19. More than 20 organizations, including the AIDS Institute, ALS Association, American Kidney Fund, Autoimmune Association, and the Cancer Support Community signed a letter to the governor and insurance commissioner urging they make it available at no cost.

The Immunocompromised Collaborative wants Gov. Brian Kemp and Insurance Commissioner John King to urge private insurers to institute affordable copays and support broader accessibility of COVID-19 antiviral treatments to protect the health of Georgia patients.  

Taking antiviral medications like Paxlovid help prevent severe illness and death in older and immunocompromised people, but Vice President of Public Policy at the Immune Deficiency Foundation Lynn Albizo said despite availability, people are turned off by fees.

Supply is not the issue, she said, but even a $5 copay could make those on Medicare and Medicaid less likely to seek treatment for COVID, especially if they don’t feel sick right away. 

“That’s why we really want to make sure that people get it,” Albizo said. “Because in the end, you’re going to save lives and save money because it’s a lot more expensive to put people in the hospital than to cover their medication.”

Georgia is experiencing the second-highest surge in COVID cases since the pandemic began, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

When people basically feel well despite testing positive, they may decide to just ride through it, Albizo said.

“The doctors might even think that if [patients are] not showing symptoms that they shouldn’t prescribe [antivirals like Paxlovid], but actually they need to prescribe it right away.

The letter notes that timing is critical for the treatment of COVID-19, as antiviral therapies must be administered within five days of symptom onset.

“Patients do not have time to wait to determine if they can afford a treatment that can keep them out of the hospital and mitigate severe symptoms while managing daily costs and responsibilities,” the letter states. “Following the lead of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) guidance, low or $0 copays for these antiviral treatments would remove the financial burden and enable patients with COVID-19 to act quickly to avoid more severe symptoms, hospitalization, and death.”

This story comes to Cobb News through a reporting partnership with GPB News, a non-profit newsroom covering the state of Georgia.