A major U.S. supermarket chain is facing claims that one of its stores refused to cover HIV prevention medication for an employee through its insurance plan.
David Holland, director of the Fulton County PrEP Clinic in Atlanta, told The Body website that he had tried to obtain coverage for pre-exposure prophylaxis, or PrEP, for a patient who works at a Publix supermarket in Georgia.
Publix, he said, denied the request.
“We’ve started over 400 people on PrEP at our clinic alone, and this is the only person that we weren’t able to get PrEP for,” said Holland, who is also an assistant professor of medicine at Emory University.
Although the employee, who was not identified, attempted to appeal the decision, the request was rejected two more times, much to Holland’s surprise.
“What we found out from the insurance company was that it came, ultimately, from the employer,” he said. “It wasn’t just an insurance issue; it was [that] the employer did not want it covered in the insurance.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, daily use of PrEP can reduce the risk of contracting HIV from sex by more than 90 percent. Medical sources estimate that the out-of-pocket cost of the drug without insurance can be as high as $13,000 per year.
Publix didn’t immediately respond to HuffPost’s request for comment. However, spokeswoman Brenda Reid told The Body, “Annually, we evaluate benefits covered under our health plans. There are numerous medications covered by the plan used in the treatment of HIV.”
She added, “There are some medications that have coverage limitations or require prior authorization.”
The response from the Lakeland, Florida-based company has prompted some speculation that it refused to cover PrEP on moral grounds, discriminating against gay and bisexual men, who remain disproportionately susceptible to HIV infection. (It is not known whether the employee who requested the drug identifies as LGBTQ.)
When it comes to LGBTQ rights, Publix has a checkered history at best. The chain, which comprises 1,169 stores in seven Southern states, received a score of zero in the Human Rights Campaign’s 2018 Corporate Equality Index, which is used as a benchmarking tool for LGBTQ workplace equality. Because Publix was one of the few Fortune 500 companies that didn’t respond to the group’s request for information, however, that rating was deemed “unofficial” in the HRC survey.