Time to Implement ‘New’ HIV Testing Guidelines

LOS ANGELES – This week, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, an independent group under the umbrella of the Department of Health and Human Services, recommended routine testing for HIV of all people ages 15-64.

The recommendation, recently posted online, comes six years after a panel at the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) issued similar guidelines calling for such routine HIV testing (of individuals ages 13 to 64) in most medical settings such as health clinics, doctors’ offices and emergency units; however, the CDC’s guidelines have not been widely implemented due in part to questions as to who pays for such testing. Now, the recommendation from U.S. Preventive Services Task Force for similar testing guidelines—if adopted (after a month long period of public comment)—paves the way for Medicare and other government and private insurance programs to pay for such routine testing.

“Making HIV testing a routine part of health care really is the key to controlling and reducing the number of undiagnosed individuals and will ultimately help us break the chain of new infections,“ said Michael Weinstein, President of AIDS Healthcare Foundation. “We applauded the recommendation of the CDC back in September 2006 for similar testing guidelines—as well as the American Medical Association, which offered similar guidelines in November 2007. What’s key now is that these guidelines from the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force can eliminate a huge obstacle to previous successful implementation of routine HIV testing in most health care settings: these guidelines, when adopted, will pave the way for both government and most private insurers to pay for the testing.”

According to an article in the Los Angeles Times (11/20/12), “The draft guidelines were written by the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, an independent group that operates under the auspices of the Department of Health and Human Services to advise the government and the nation’s physicians on the medical evidence for preventive health measures.” The article also noted, “If the panel ultimately adopts those recommendations, Medicare and most private health insurers will be required to pay for the tests.”

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force’s move dovetails with a landmark revision in the CDC’s own HIV testing recommendations that were issued in September 2006. Through those recommendations, the CDC now encourages U.S. medical providers to make HIV testing a “routine part of care in health care settings for all patients ages 13 through 64,” and encourages linkages to care and treatment for those found to be HIV infected. The CDC also suggested that, “(HIV)… screening should be routine, regardless of whether the patient is known or suspected to have specific behavioral risks for HIV infection.”

“There are more than 1.1 million Americans currently living with HIV/AIDS. About half of that number do not consistently receive medical care, and more than one fifth of the total do not even know they are infected with HIV,” said Whitney Engeran-Cordova, Senior Director, Public Health Division, for AIDS Healthcare Foundation. “We welcome these recommendations from the Task Force and believe its high time to implement the guidelines, a process which may also be made even easier now with the FDA’s recent approval of one-minute HIV testing—available for the first time in the U.S. this past September.”