I was diagnosed with HIV 25 years ago. At the time, there was little hope. When I mentioned to my doctor that I was afraid, he, also a gay man, replied: “we all are.” It was a terrifying time. We had all spent years burying our friends and loved ones because one drug existed and little optimism was offered. I still miss them all, so young, so beautiful, so extraordinarily creative, talented and brave. I long to see their faces and hear their voices, even just once more.
Thanks to incredible advocacy and research, HIV no longer has to be a death sentence. In the 20 years that highly effective antiretroviral medications have been available, people living with HIV are living long, healthy lives. Along with thousands of others, I am living proof that good medical care and support systems make the difference between life and death.
Many of my loved ones, and thousands of other courageous, beautiful people across America didn’t live to see the day that anyone with HIV can take a pill a day, be virally suppressed, and live their lives. I fantasize that they are here to take the meds and be okay. That we are growing old together and that they laugh at me for now being unable to dance ‘til sunrise, as we so often did.
Today, I’m thrilled that lifesaving daily therapy is a reality. Everyone living with HIV deserves a chance to share that reality. They deserve to be engaged in care with a medical provider who is sensitive to their many needs. They deserve health coverage that doesn’t discriminate. And they deserve access to care and treatment that keeps them well, with respect to HIV, and holistically.
I’m gifted with a doctor who knows how to treat HIV and also doesn’t let me leave his office without getting my flu shot. I’m gifted with a pharmacist who calls to ensure that I pick up my medication. And I’m fortunate to have a health insurance plan that gives me access to good care, helps me pay for my doctor’s visits and prescriptions, and gives me peace of mind and security.
If you’re reading this, wishing you had coverage or that a friend or family member did, you have until January 31 to go to HealthCare.gov or call 1-800-318-2596 and shop for a plan. And if you’d rather have someone help you in person, go to localhelp.healthcare.gov to find a person in your community who can walk you through it.
I’m blessed to work with wonderful and innovative people all over the country, coordinate our nation’s strategy for fighting HIV/AIDS, and spend time with friends and family I love because I have quality, affordable health coverage that works for me.
This holiday season, I encourage you to think about getting covered, and/or talk to your loved ones—your sisters and brothers, cousins and friends, parents and children—and give them the gift of health care.