Publix, a Florida-based grocery store chain throughout the southeast United States, has reportedly denied its 188,000+ employees health insurance coverage for pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP), a medication that is highly effective at preventing HIV. The Body reports that it’s unclear whether the Publix PrEP refusal is a cost-cutting measure or over moral or religious objections, but the company’s refusal has shined light on their other conservative business dealings.
David Holland, a medical doctor who serves as director of the Fulton County PrEP clinic in Atlanta, Georgia, said he became aware of the Publix PrEP rejection after he was unable to get a Publix employee PrEP through the company’s health insurance.
Holland called the insurance provider directly and said, “What we found out from the insurance company was that [the refusal] came, ultimately, from the employer. It wasn’t just an insurance issue; it was [that] the employer did not want it covered in the insurance.”
When asked about it, Publix said that its “generous medical and prescription coverage” covered “numerous medications … used in the treatment of HIV,” adding, “There are some medications that have coverage limitations or require prior authorization.”
However, this answer is short-sighted, according to Devin Barrington Ward, a social justice advocate with the National Black Leadership Commission on AIDS. He says providing just one PrEP prescription to an HIV-negative employee is far cheaper than providing medications and healthcare to an HIV-positive employee. Another HIV health advocate said, “Publix is a billion-dollar corporation, and so if they really wanted to [provide coverage of PrEP] they could.”
The Body points out that Publix is a conservative company that has made donations to anti-gay Republican political candidates, funded campaigns against legalized cannabis and has “scored a zero on the Human Rights Campaign’s analysis of workplace fairness” in addition to being “accused of multiple instances of anti-LGBT discrimination.”
The Body adds that three of seven states with Publix grocery stores — North Carolina, Georgia, Florida — were ranked by the Centers of Disease Control as being among the top 10 states with the highest number of HIV diagnoses in 2016.
Update: The grocery chain has since stated that it’s working to expand PrEP coverage to its employees.