The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) today announced its final decision to cover Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) infection screening for Medicare beneficiaries who are at increased risk for the infection, including women who are pregnant and Medicare beneficiaries of any age who voluntarily request the service.  The decision is effective immediately.

Under the recently passed Medicare Improvements for Patients and Providers Act of 2008 (MIPPA), CMS now has the flexibility of adding to Medicare’s list of covered preventive services, if certain requirements are met.  Prior to this law, Medicare could only cover additional preventive screening tests when Congress authorized it to do so.     

“Today’s decision marks an important milestone in the history of the Medicare program,” said HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. “Beginning with expanding coverage for HIV screening, we can now work proactively as a program to help keep Medicare beneficiaries healthy and take a more active role in evaluating the evidence for preventive services.”

Under MIPPA, CMS can consider whether Medicare should cover preventive services that Congress has not already deemed as covered or non-covered by law.  Among other requirements, the new services must have been “strongly recommended” or “recommended” by the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force.  For instance, the Task Force graded HIV screening as “strongly recommended” for certain groups.  More information about the Task Force is available online at

“Every adult should know their HIV status,” said Dr. Howard K. Koh, HHS assistant secretary for health.  “This decision by Medicare should help promote screening and save lives.”

CMS uses the national coverage determination (NCD) process to make decisions on these types of preventive services.  This process provides transparency about the evidence that CMS considers when making its decisions and allows opportunity for the public to comment on CMS’ proposals. 

 “Medicare’s coverage of HIV screening tests is an important step forward in protecting beneficiaries from the potentially devastating and life-threatening complications of HIV and Acquired immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS),” said CMS Acting Administrator Charlene Frizzera.

AIDS is diagnosed when an HIV-infected person’s immune system becomes severely compromised or a person becomes ill with an HIV-related infection.  Of the more than one million estimated to have the HIV infection, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has estimated that about a quarter of them do not realize they are infected.  Without treatment, AIDS develops within 8 to 10 years.  While there is presently no cure for HIV, screening can help identify infected patients so that they can receive medical treatment that could help delay the onset of AIDS for years.  

More information about Medicare’s new HIV screening benefit is available in CMS’ final decision memorandum.  Read the final decision online at