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Affordable Care Act Broadens Public Health Foundation

Jonathan Mermin

Dr. Jonathan Mermin

A call that began in 2011 from the U.S. Department of State is still loud and clear today: that we can achieve an AIDS-free generation. High-impact prevention, continuum-of-care efforts, and sound prevention science, including PrEP, are a part of ending new HIV infections in this country. Through the Affordable Care Act, we will have a broader and more comprehensive foundation upon which to do the work of public health.

Martin Luther King, Jr. stated in a speech to the Medical Committee for Human Rights in 1966, that “of all the forms of inequality, injustice in health care is the most shocking and inhumane.” The sobering reality is that nearly 30% of people living with HIV are uninsured. The Affordable Care Act will help reduce this number.

Beginning on October 1, 2013, Americans will be able to find health coverage through the new Health Insurance Marketplace, where people can fill out an application, see all of the health plans available in their area, and learn if they qualify for lower out-of-pocket costs. Many preventive services that help stop HIV and STDs (e.g., those recommended by the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force Exit Disclaimer or the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices) now must be covered by most private health insurance plans without co-pays or deductibles. These recommended services include screening for HIV, other sexually transmitted diseases, viral hepatitis, and also counseling to reduce risk for STIs. Additional services covered will include vaccination for hepatitis A and hepatitis B and human papilloma virus or HPV.

Because of the Affordable Care Act, beginning in 2014, people who have a pre-existing health condition, such as HIV infection, or are sick, can’t be turned down for health insurance or charged more for coverage. This will improve access to quality care and needed health services. Better access, better coverage, and better support for prevention all promise to lead to better health outcomes, higher quality of care, and, critical to the health of the nation, a reduction in health disparities.

We are living in a time when better health care availability can help us fight HIV, viral hepatitis, STDs, and TB in a smarter and more coordinated way and ensure that persons with HIV or other STDs know their status and take the steps needed to protect their health and that of others. Please encourage those you know who will benefit from access to coverage to visit healthcare.gov to learn more. I hope you too will take time to learn more about Affordable Care Act and the Health Insurance Marketplace and learn how these new programs can help all of us achieve our goals.

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