PrEP access would increase with California’s Senate Bill 159

PrEP HIV Mediction

California legislation that would allow pharmacists to dispense the HIV prevention medication PrEP to patients without a prescription is up for a vote this week in Sacramento. Photo: iStock.

California legislation that would allow pharmacists to dispense the HIV prevention medication PrEP to patients without a prescription is up for a vote this week in Sacramento.

Senate Bill 159 would also permit pharmacists to give PEP to people without a prescription.


PrEP medications are taken daily by people who are HIV negative to reduce their risk of contracting HIV, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“Daily PrEP reduces the risk of getting HIV from sex by more than 90 percent,” according to the CDC website. 

PEP mediations, on the other hand, are taken after a person is exposed to HIV, to prevent the virus from taking hold.

Senate Bill 159

The Assembly’s Appropriations Committee is scheduled to have a hearing on SB 159 Friday. The bill already has passed out of the Senate.

The legislation also prevents insurance companies from requiring patients to obtain prior authorization before using their insurance benefits to obtain these medications.

PrEP and PEP are covered by most private insurance programs, as well as by Medicare, Medi-Cal, and Covered California health plans.

Senator Scott Weiner

The bill was introduced by Sen. Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) and Assemblyman Todd Gloria (D-San Diego).

“We must do more to increase access to revolutionary medicines that help keep people HIV negative, and that’s exactly what SB 159 does,” Wiener said in a statement.

In 2014, Weiner said he takes PrEP as an HIV prevention.

“By allowing pharmacists to furnish PrEP and PEP, we will help more people, especially low-income people and people of color, stay negative,” Weiner said.

California HIV rates

California has some of the highest disparities between communities of color and white communities with HIV infections, according to the California Department of Public Health’s Office of AIDS 2017 report.

“SB 159 will help close that disparity by increasing access for everyone,” Weiner said.

HIV infections in the U.S.

Disparities also are seen in national data. Although recent studies have shown that new HIV infections overall have decreased, new infections have increased in black and Latino gay men more than 

any other group in the United States, according to the Center for Disease Control. 

In 2017, Latino gay men were almost twice as likely to contract HIV as gay white men, and gay black men were more than three times as likely.

Increasing access to PrEP and PEP medications can help close that gap, authorities said. 

“It is imperative we reduce barriers and increase accessibility to this live-saving medication,” Gloria said in the statement. “Not only can we save lives with PrEP, but we also have a real chance to end new cases of HIV for good.”

About the author

Phillip Zonkel

Award-winning journalist Phillip Zonkel spent 17 years at Long Beach's Press-Telegram, where he was the first reporter in the paper's history to have a beat covering the city's vibrant LGBTQ. He also created and ran the popular and innovative LGBTQ news blog, Out in the 562.

He won two awards and received a nomination for his reporting on the local LGBTQ community, including a two-part investigation that exposed anti-gay bullying of local high school students and the school districts' failure to implement state mandated protections for LGBTQ students.

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