Congresswoman Waters Leads 54 Members Of Congress Seeking Health Insurance for Rountine HIV Screening
Washington, D.C. – Yesterday, 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 54 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."
Congresswoman Waters is sponsoring several other initiatives in the 112th Congress to promote HIV/AIDS awareness, testing and treatment.
1. Expanding the Minority AIDS Initiative: Congresswoman Waters continues her efforts to expand the Minority AIDS Initiative, which she established as Chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus in 1998 to expand HIV awareness, testing, and treatment among racial and ethnic minorities, which are disproportionately impacted by HIV/AIDS. The Initiative has received approximately $400 million per year since fiscal year 2003. On May 20, 2011, Congresswoman Waters wrote a letter to congressional appropriators requesting $610 million for the Minority AIDS Initiative for fiscal year 2012 to ensure that the Initiative has the resources needed to combat the AIDS epidemic in these communities. A total of 56 Members of Congress signed the Congresswoman's letter.
2. Preventing the spread of AIDS: Congresswoman Waters plans to reintroduce the Stop AIDS in Prison Act (H.R. 1429 in the 111th Congress), which was passed by the House of Representatives on March 17, 2009, but was not taken up by the Senate prior to adjournment last year. This bill requires the Federal Bureau of Prisons to test all prison inmates for HIV, unless the inmate opts out of taking the test. The bill also requires HIV/AIDS prevention education for all inmates and comprehensive treatment for those who test positive.
3. Protecting HIV screening: Congresswoman Waters plans to reintroduce the Routine HIV Screening Coverage Act (H.R. 2137 in the 111th Congress). This bill requires health insurance plans to cover routine HIV tests under the same terms and conditions as other routine health screenings and therefore enables more Americans to be tested for HIV. This bill had 46 cosponsors representing both political parties in the 111th Congress.
4. Encouraging involvement by clinicians: On July 21, 2011, Congresswoman Waters introduced a resolution, H.Res. 362, in honor of the fourth annual National Clinicians HIV/AIDS Testing and Awareness Day. The resolution urges doctors, nurses, dentists and other clinicians nationwide to become actively involved in HIV/AIDS awareness, testing, treatment, and referral services. It also urges individuals to get tested for HIV and educate themselves about the prevention and treatment of HIV/AIDS. This resolution was cosponsored by 24 of her colleagues in Congress.