BOSTON (STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE) – Health insurance companies will need to foot the bill for treating scars caused by some of the early drugs given to HIV patients under a law Gov. Charlie Baker signed Wednesday.
HIV-associated lipodystrophy stems from the poisonous cocktails of medication doctors gave patients in the early years of the epidemic before more sophisticated drugs were developed.
Dr. Camilla Graham, of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, told lawmakers last year that early HIV treatments were “toxic” and the fat deposits and disfigurements known as lipodystrophy are a “legacy of drugs we were using to do the best we could at the time.”
The small business and health insurance lobbies had opposed the bill, as they do across the board on proposed new state health insurance mandates. The lobbyists argue big corporations with the resources to self-insure can avoid the mandates because they are subject to federal rules, giving them an advantage.
Baker, the former chief of Harvard Pilgrim Health Care, this year vetoed legislation mandating long-term antibiotic treatment of Lyme disease, which the Legislature overrode. The lipodystrophy legislation Baker signed into law has a limited financial impact, as the medical community no longer treats Human Immunodeficiency Virus with drugs that cause the condition.
Sen. Mark Montigny, a New Bedford Democrat who sponsored the lipodystrophy bill, said the Department of Public Health estimates 400 Bay Staters suffer from the condition and the Center for Health Information and Analysis estimated the coverage would increase people’s monthly health insurance premium costs by 1 cent to 10 cents over five years.
“No longer can insurance companies deny humane treatment to patients, hiding behind the bogus claim that such care is merely cosmetic in nature,” Montigny said in a statement.
In emotional testimony before legislative committees, those who had suffered from lipodystrophy described uncomfortable growths, known as horse collars, and the painful stigma accompanying the visible signs of the disease.
“People living with lipodystrophy who have survived the AIDS epidemic will no longer be consigned to lives as shut-ins or objects of ridicule,” said Bennett Klein, AIDS Law Project director at GLAD – GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders – in a statement.