Doctors Advocate HIV Tests for All; Insurers Urged to Pay for Screening

In a joint press conference on April 17, the American College of Physicians and the HIV Medicine Association made an urgent call for national AIDS policy reform, including universal testing for everyone who does not opt out.

Dr. Michael S. Saag, director of the University of Alabama-Birmingham's Center for AIDS Research, moderated the press conference. While noting the "incredible progress" that has occurred in the field since the onset of the epidemic in the early 1980s, Saag said, "our policies have not really been revisited in a serious way."

Saag and other speakers observed that while CDC has recommended routine HIV testing since 2006, many insurers still do not pay for the test. They noted that the transmission of HIV from mothers to infants has been halted in the United States by universal screening of pregnant women. "The same concept needs to be applied to the entire population," Saag said. He noted that in the university's 1917 Clinic for HIV, about half the patients who present for treatment already have severely compromised immune systems, meaning they are being diagnosed too late for optimal treatment.

A position paper issued by the two medical groups said that ignorance, racism, and homophobia are complicating the fight against HIV/AIDS. It also warned of a looming shortage of doctors trained to treat HIV patients. The paper said there is an "urgent need" to expand access to HIV/AIDS treatments, develop a comprehensive national prevention and education response, and mount a stronger international anti-AIDS effort.

The paper is being published in the May 15 edition of Clinical Infectious Diseases.