The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) has issued new recommendations on who should be routinely screened for HIV infection. Previously, USPSTF released recommendations that only high-risk individuals should be screened for HIV. Specifically, it concluded that “the benefit of screening adolescents and adults without risk factors for HIV is too small relative to potential harms to justify a general recommendation.” In November, the USPSTF issued draft recommendations that all adolescents and adults, regardless of high-risk, should be routinely screened for HIV infection. As of yesterday, those draft recommendations became final. In a statement issued yesterday, USPSTF issued a final recommendation officially proposing that all individuals ages 15–65 should be screened for HIV infection, including pregnant women who are unaware of their HIV status.
According to the CDC, nearly 1.2 million Americans are now living with HIV, and approximately 20 to 25 percent are unaware of their positive status. Each year, about 50,000 people become infected with HIV. The USPSTF now recommends that people ages 15-65 should be tested at least once in their life, with more frequent screenings for higher-risk individuals, including men who have sex with men (MSM), individuals engaging in unprotected sex, or sharing needles with a HIV-infected person.
This much-needed change has three significant benefits:
- First, USPSTF’s recommendation could reduce the spread of HIV infections across the country. People who are screened will receive an earlier diagnosis, and can start medical treatment and lessen spreading HIV to others. Recommending the screening of all adults — ages 15-65 — will help to not isolate those who are “high-risk,” by instead focusing on everyone to promote healthier and longer lives.
- Second, recommending that adults ages 15-65 receive routine HIV screening could reduce stigma and discrimination of those who may be infected. According to Ban Ki-Moon, Secretary-General of the United Nations, “Stigma remains the single most important barrier to public action. It is a main reason why too many people are afraid to see a doctor to determine whether they have the disease, or to seek treatment if so … Stigma is a chief reason why the AIDS epidemic continues to devastate societies around the world.” Stigma prevents many individuals from receiving HIV testing and preventative care, and this new recommendation from high-risk to adolescents and adults will likely be beneficial.
- Third, under the Affordable Care Act, insurers must cover preventive services recommended by the USPSTF without copay, co-insurance, or deductible — this means that many individuals will now have more affordable access to HIV screenings.
The new USPSTF recommendation is a major advancement in public health, and will help thousands of American take control of their health by becoming aware of their HIV status.
Preston Mitchum is a Policy Analyst with LGBT Progress.