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Texas Bill Would Make HIV Screening Part of Routine Care

February 18, 2009

Texas state Sen. Rodney Ellis (D) and Rep. Yvonne Davis (D) on Tuesday introduced a bill (S.B. 877) that would make HIV testing a part of routine care for people ages 13 to 64, the AP/Houston Chronicle reports. The bill would align Texas with 2006 recommendations from CDC that say HIV screening should be a part of routine care but allow patients to opt out of the tests. The legislation also would require health insurers and Medicaid to cover the cost of the $25 to $35 screening. "Early diagnosis is a key to fighting the disease and its spread," Ellis said, adding, "The sooner a person is made aware of their status, the sooner they can change their behavior."

Between 2003 and 2007, more than one-fourth of HIV-positive people in Texas were diagnosed in the later stages of the virus and were diagnosed with AIDS after one month, according to CDC. Data from the Texas Department of State Health Services indicate that in 2007, more than half of the 62,000 people living with HIV/AIDS in the state were from Houston and Dallas. According to Ellis, the bill would serve as a model for other states if passed. "This would be the gold standard in terms of testing," he said. Randall Ellis -- who heads government relations for Legacy Community Health Services and helped draft the legislation -- said, "We're getting more and more people just to get into the habit of testing. So there's no stigma associated with getting an HIV test, like you've done something wrong."

The Texas Medical Association does not have a position on the legislation but supports CDC's testing recommendations, according to the AP/Chronicle. Ed Sherwood, chair of the association's committee on infectious diseases, said that he believes increased HIV testing could help curb the spread of the virus and improve survival rates for HIV-positive people by helping them to start treatment earlier (Stone, AP/Houston Chronicle, 2/17).

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