On HIV Testing Day, HIVMA calls for health care reform to make testing routine every day

June 22, 2009

Arlington, VA--This Saturday, June 27, HIV Testing Day, the HIV Medicine Association (HIVMA) urges everyone to get tested for HIV, a vital step in linking people to lifesaving care and reducing the spread of new infections. As Congress takes up health care reform, HIVMA calls on policymakers to do more to make every day HIV Testing Day by ensuring that health care reform covers such screening as a standard part of routine medical care and as an essential piece of a new national HIV/AIDS strategy.

Innovative drug therapies have made HIV a manageable and chronic disease for many people, but far too many patients are diagnosed too late. An estimated 21 percent of those living with HIV nationwide--231,000 people--are unaware of their HIV status. They account for more than half of all new HIV infections and often don't get tested until they become seriously sick, even after they have already been in contact with the health care system.

Nearly three years ago, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommended routine, voluntary, opt-out HIV screening in health care settings for nearly all age groups. But barriers remain, including a lack of federal funding to put these recommendations into action. Private insurers and government-funded programs, such as Medicare and most Medicaid programs, don't cover routine HIV tests. Health care reform offers the perfect opportunity to remove these barriers.

"Routine screening will limit the spread of HIV, connect those with HIV to the care and treatment they need, and improve overall public health in this country," said Arlene Bardeguez, MD, MPH, HIVMA chair. "We need to implement the routine testing policy CDC recommended in 2006 now with strong linkages to care. It is imperative that the proposed comprehensive health care reform for our country have this approach as a cornerstone of a national HIV/AIDS strategy."

Studies have demonstrated that patients who receive HIV care and treatment earlier are less likely to die and less likely to transmit the infection to others. "The earlier people are diagnosed and get into care, the better it is for patients and for public health," said Mari M. Kitahata, MD, MPH, HIVMA board member. "Our study found that patients who began treatment later are 94 percent more likely to die than those that initiate treatment earlier. Unfortunately, other studies have found that most of our patients are 'entering care' after they have been infected with HIV for several years. Their immune systems are already badly damaged, and they may have unknowingly transmitted HIV to others."

Early HIV treatment is more cost effective, too. "It is 2.6 times cheaper per year to treat patients with HIV at the earlier stages of the disease at our clinic," said Michael S. Saag, MD, FIDSA, HIVMA chair-elect. "These results underscore the importance of early detection through routine HIV testing, not only on HIV Testing Day, but throughout the year."
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For more information about HIV Testing Day, including a searchable list of testing sites across the country, visit www.hivtest.org.

HIVMA is the professional home for more than 3,600 physicians, scientists and other health care professionals dedicated to the field of HIV/AIDS. Nested within the Infectious Diseases Society of America (IDSA), HIVMA promotes quality in HIV care and advocates policies that ensure a comprehensive and humane response to the AIDS pandemic informed by science and social justice. IDSA is a professional society representing more than 8,600 physicians and scientists who specialize in infectious diseases. For more information, visit our websites: www.hivma.org and www.idsociety.org.

Infectious Diseases Society of America

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