U.S. Health Panel Likely to Make HIV Tests Routine

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force could soon recommend that HIV testing become routine in medical settings, according to health officials close to the panel, speaking on condition of anonymity. Under the 2010 federal health reform law, health insurers must fully cover preventive services that USPSTF recommends. The recommendation is expected to be open for public comment before the year ends.

"It still will take culture change for medical providers, but this will be a tremendous leap," said Michael Kharfen, chief of community outreach with the District of Columbia's Department of Health.

USPSTF weighed issues around HIV testing in 2005 but did not recommend widespread screening, leaving it up to physicians. Since then, however, studies have shown that early HIV treatment improves patients' health and life expectancy, and it cuts the risk of transmission by 96 percent.

"We did not find that evidence at that time compelling enough to say that we were confident that more people would benefit than the people who had HIV detected," said Dr. Michael LeFevre, USPSTF's co-chair. "Obviously that was seven years ago," and the new data will be taken into consideration, he said.

In 2006, CDC recommended that everyone ages 13-64 be tested for HIV at least once.

Expanding HIV testing to the general population would cost $27 billion over a 20-year period, one Stanford University study estimated. One-time universal testing followed by annual testing in high-prevalence areas could prevent an estimated 212,000 infections. Adding HIV testing to routine blood work would cost $1.50 per patient.