SEEKING HEALTH INSURANCE COVERAGE FOR ROUTINE HIV SCREENING
Washington, D.C. – Recently, on Capitol Hill, Rep. Maxine Waters (CA-35), a Congressional leader in the fight to reduce the spread of HIV/AIDS through increased awareness, screening, research, treatment, and funding, sent a letter to the Honorable Kathleen Sebelius, Secretary of Health and Human Services, urging her to include routine annual screening for HIV in the Essential Health Benefits package under the Affordable Care Act. A total of 56 Members of Congress signed the Congresswoman’s letter. The text of the letter follows:
“As Members of Congress who are concerned about the impact of HIV/AIDS in our communities, we write to urge you to include routine annual screening for HIV as a preventive procedure in the Essential Health Benefits package under the Affordable Care Act.
“There are over 1.1 million people living with HIV/AIDS in the United States today, and about 20% of them do not know they are infected. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there are approximately 50,000 new HIV infections every year, and more than 16,000 people with AIDS died in 2008.
“The CDC recommends routine HIV screening in all health care settings for patients aged 13-64. Routine HIV screening allows HIV-positive individuals to learn of their status and begin medical treatment to prolong their lives and maintain their health and productivity. Research also indicates that HIV-positive individuals are less likely to transmit HIV to other persons if they are receiving treatment. Routine HIV screening is also consistent with the National HIV/AIDS Strategy, which was released by the White House in July of 2010 and which seeks to increase the percentage of people living with HIV who know their status.
“Unfortunately, some health insurance plans do not cover routine HIV screening. Instead, these plans cover HIV tests for patients with known or perceived risk factors (for example, men who have sex with men and intravenous drug users) and patients who show symptoms of AIDS. However, many of those who are infected do not fall into high risk categories. About 27% of new infections involve heterosexual transmission, and women account for 23% of new infections. People of color have been impacted severely, with African Americans accounting for 44% of new infections and Hispanics/Latinos accounting for 20%. Approximately 68% of new infections are among people of color.
“As long as health plans refuse to cover HIV tests as routine health screenings, many doctors and health providers are unlikely to encourage routine HIV screening for their patients. As a result, many patients who are HIV-positive will not discover their infection until their HIV/AIDS is more advanced and treatment is less likely to be effective. Meanwhile, they will not be able to take action to avoid spreading the virus to others. Indeed, approximately one-third of people who test positive for HIV progress to an AIDS diagnosis within 12 months, suggesting that many were unaware they were HIV-positive for an extended period of time. Thus, routine HIV screening is a critical component of HIV/AIDS treatment and prevention efforts.
“We appreciate your commitment to comprehensive health benefits, and we urge you to facilitate routine HIV screening by including it as a preventive procedure in the Essential Health Benefits package. We look forward to working with you to ensure that the Affordable Care Act meets the needs of all Americans, including those who are affected by HIV/AIDS.”