I’m a person living with HIV in Kentucky and receive assistance to pay for my health insurance through the Ryan White HIV/AIDS Program. I heard that there were problems getting insurance companies to accept such payments; am I going to have similar problems here in Kentucky?
 
The Ryan White HIV/AIDS Program is a federal program designed to help lower-income people with HIV pay for their insurance premiums. This program is very important and sometimes absolutely vital, because it helps thousands of people across the country get the coverage they need to pay for medical treatment for HIV. And, as a result of some advocacy done by Lambda Legal and others, private insurers all across the country are still required to accept these payments.
 
In January, John East, a New Orleans resident, learned that Blue Cross Blue Shield (BCBS) of Louisiana intended to stop accepting the federal dollars that had helped pay for his health insurance. East has been with BCBS since 1985, paying the ever-increasing premiums himself until 2009, when he lost his job. Thankfully, he enrolled in the Ryan White program.
 
But in January, when BCBS indicated that it would stop accepting payments from any third party, East was afraid he might suddenly stop getting his HIV medicines and other important medical care. The threat that he may be dropped from the BCBS insurance rolls was quite alarming to him. BCBS argued that it needed to stop accepting all third-party payments to diminish the risk of fraud, even though federal guidelines noted that insurers should continue accepting Ryan White funds.
 
Lambda Legal stepped in, sending BCBS a letter urging the company not to change its policy and then filing complaints with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services against BCBS and two other Louisiana insurers making similar claims. When this didn’t work, Lambda Legal filed a federal class action lawsuit against all three insurers on behalf of East and other lower-income Louisianans living with HIV.
 
Days later, the U.S. District Court issued an emergency order requiring the insurers to continue accepting the Ryan White payments. Shortly thereafter, the insurers said they would take the payments through the end of the year. Finally, the federal government subsequently issued a regulation requiring that insurers nationwide continue to accept the payments.
 
Accepting payments from the Ryan White HIV/AIDS Program should no longer cause a problem anywhere in the United States. Thankfully, under the Affordable Care Act — with its strong protections against discrimination and elimination of the pre-existing condition exclusion — insurers are not permitted to exclude people living with HIV through direct or indirect means like claims of fraud risk.
 
If you have any questions or feel you have been discriminated against because of your gender, sexual orientation, or HIV status, contact Lambda Legal’s Help Desk at 866-542-8336 or go to Ask Lambda Legal
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