The experts on the U.S. Preventative Task Force, a government-backed panel of scientists and medical professionals, are now recommending that every American between the ages of 15 and 65 be tested for HIV. Since the Affordable Care Act requires insurers to cover the preventative services that are recommended by the task force, regular HIV testing will now be covered under Obamacare as a routine part of a check-up.
Dr. Carlos Del Rio, an expert in AIDS research in Atlanta, told ABC News that the task force’s announcement is “very exciting” because it will help ensure that her patients are routinely screened for HIV, just as they are already tested for their blood pressure or cholesterol levels:
“People are terrible at knowing their own risk,” said Del Rio, adding that people may be unaware of the HIV status of their sexual partners. “And doctors are terrible at asking them about risk. It can be difficult to discuss sex and drugs with our patients.”
The task force recommendations are used by Medicare and other insurance companies to determine what laboratory tests should be covered. Other important task force recommendations included screening for breast and colon cancer, as well as high cholesterol.
“I don’t have to ask my patients if they eat hamburgers before ordering a cholesterol test,” said Del Rio. “Now I can do a routine HIV test when patients come to clinic.”
The task force first indicated they were considering updating their recommendations on HIV testing in August. Their previous guidelines on HIV screening — which hadn’t been changed since 2005 — left the decision to test for HIV up to each individual doctor, and only strongly recommended testing for the adults who were considered to be at “high risk” for contracting the virus after having multiple sexual partners. But according to researchers, since 20 percent of HIV-positive Americans are currently unaware they have the virus, regular screening could help identify more people who could benefit from early treatment.
Although gains in HIV treatment still remain somewhat stratified by race and class, Obamacare does represent an important step forward for HIV-positive individuals. Guaranteed coverage for HIV testing isn’t the only way that the health reform law will help combat the virus; Obamacare also increases resources for HIV research and prevention, helps ensure that the drugs for HIV treatment are more affordable, and prevents insurance companies from discriminating against Americans simply based on their HIV status.