New Recommendations for PrEP and HIV Screening Could Increase Access for Millions of Americans

by HRC staff

Post submitted by Viet Tran (he/him/they/them), former HRC Press Secretary

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force finalized its recommendations regarding access to PrEP and HIV testing, which will increase access to lifesaving preventative care for millions of Americans.

Today, the HRC responded to news that the US Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) has finalized its recommendations regarding access to PrEP and HIV testing, which will increase access to lifesaving preventative care for millions of Americans.

“For LGBTQ Americans and countless others in the U.S. and around the world, the HIV and AIDS epidemic remains a serious threat to our health and welfare,” said HRC President Chad Griffin. “In the face of discrimination, stigma, and inequality, too many of us remain without access to life-saving medication and preventative care. While there is much work to be done, today’s news signals a potentially game-changing expansion of care for our country -- especially for our nation’s most marginalized.”

“These recommendations from USPSTF represent a critical step forward for the health and welfare of millions of Americans, ” said J. Maurice McCants-Pearsall, HRC’s Director of HIV and Health Equity. “Despite steadily declining HIV infection rates overall in the U.S., the HIV and AIDS epidemic has not slowed its assault on our community’s and country’s most marginalized -- including gay, bisexual and transgender people, especially Black and Latinx communities. Thanks to USPSTF’s recommendations, Americans can now look forward to vastly increased access to healthcare interventions which are proven to save lives. Insurance providers and doctors should act swiftly to initiate PrEP coverage consistent with the recommendations and expand testing using the latest technologies. While there is still much work to be done, we are now that much closer to ending this epidemic.”

Today, the US Preventive Services Task Force has finalized its rating for PrEP, giving it an “A” rating.  In addition, as in 2013, the USPSTF provides a grade A recommendation for routine, voluntary HIV screening among all persons aged 15 to 65 years, all pregnant women, and all individuals at high risk of infection. The Affordable Care Act (ACA) requires private insurers to cover preventive services recommended by the USPSTF with a grade of A or B with no cost-sharing -- i.e., no deductible and no co-pay.

HIV continues to be a major public health crisis both in the United States and around the world. While major scientific advances have made it easier than ever to prevent and treat HIV, there remains no vaccine or cure, and tens of thousands of people continue to contract HIV every year. Insufficient funding for public health programs, ideological opposition to common sense prevention policies, and societal barriers including discrimination have made it especially difficult to turn the tide against the epidemic.

The disproportionate impact of HIV and AIDS on gay and bisexual Black and Latinx men and transgender women is a health inequity and civil rights injustice that demands the attention and action of a nation. While the causes of this disparity are multifaceted, it is fueled by an intersection of inequities and injustices, including stigma and discrimination.

Fifty percent of LGBTQ Americans live in the 30 states that still lack statewide legal non-discrimination protections. Dealing with the potential consequences of bias and discrimination – job loss, homelessness, lack of healthcare insurance – often results in LGBTQ people engaging in behaviors that facilitate the spread of HIV. Anti-LGBTQ bias further enables the spread of HIV by discouraging many LGBTQ people from getting tested or treated for HIV for fear of harassment.

Many Americans -- including LGBTQ people -- continue to face societal and economic barriers that prevent them from accessing healthcare. Of the 1.2 million people living with HIV in the U.S. in 2011, only 30% of them had consistently taken their medication and were able to lower the amount of HIV in their bodies to undetectable levels.

Despite these barriers, major advancements in HIV prevention, treatment, and care have put an AIDS-free generation squarely within reach. HIV tests are faster and more reliable than ever before. HIV medications are safer and more effective, and there are now several ways to prevent the spread of HIV, including condoms and Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP). When taken as prescribed, PrEP is safe and highly effective at preventing people from becoming HIV-positive. And with the implementation of 4th generation lab-based testing, providers can diagnose HIV infections in their early stages and begin treatment immediately. This helps ensure patients remain engaged in the continuum of care and can have a significant impact on their health and the community’s health.  

As we continue to fight for full federal equality for LGBTQ Americans, better funding, education, and access to healthcare for our community, and to dismantle the systems of oppression that prevent LGBTQ people of color, transgender people, and other LGBTQ people from thriving, today’s news represents important progress in the fight to end the HIV and AIDS epidemic.