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House bills could make HIV tests a standard part of sexually transmitted infection screenings and health checks

By Alex Nguyen, The Texas Tribune

House bills could make HIV tests a standard part of sexually transmitted infection screenings and health checks” was first published by The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

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Two House bills that would make HIV testing a standard part of routine sexually transmitted infection screenings and medical check-ups have been formally approved by the Texas House.

House Bill 3377 and House Bill 2235 are authored by freshman state Rep. Venton Jones, a Dallas Democrat who is the first Black, gay and openly HIV-positive lawmaker to serve at the Capitol. The House voted 103-40 to pass the first bill Friday, and 91-47 to approve the second legislation Tuesday. Both bills now advance to the Senate.

“In our fight to work to end HIV as an epidemic, the most important tool right now is people having accurate knowledge of their current HIV status,” Jones said Monday.

Both bills also garnered widespread bipartisan support long before they came to the chamber floor. The only visible pushback came from state Rep. Jared Patterson, R-Frisco, who tried to raise a point of order — a parliamentary procedure aimed to kill legislation — against HB 2235 during its Tuesday debate. His effort failed.

Since the early 1980s, the HIV epidemic has affected a broad swath of society. But it has particularly devastated the LGBTQ community, especially those who are Black and Latino. Heterosexual and cisgender people from these groups are also disproportionately affected. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported last year that Black and Latino Americans in general saw the highest numbers of HIV diagnoses between January 2021 and June 2022.

HIV assaults the immune system — though the patient may see subtle, flu-like symptoms at first, or none at all. This can prevent them from recognizing and asking for testing early on, while making it more likely for them to involuntarily transmit the virus. If left untreated for years, HIV can turn into AIDS, and the patient’s severely weakened immune system is exposed to opportunistic infections.

With medications like PrEP available, the epidemic has become less dangerous. Still, testing remains a key step in preventing and treating HIV. The CDC recommends that people between the ages of 13 and 64 test at least once, and those with certain risk factors do so at minimum once a year.

But general STI evaluations don’t always include HIV testing — a gap that Jones said surprised him and many other stakeholders.

“This leads to confusion because most individuals assume that HIV tests are included as a standard part of STI panels,” he said during the bill’s committee hearing on April 3. “There’s an urgent need to end this epidemic and expand access and awareness to HIV testing.”

HB 3377 would add HIV testing to the standard panel of lab tests for STI, though healthcare providers would still have to get consent from patients who can opt out if they want. HB 2235, which Jones called a complimentary bill to the other legislation, would do the same for routine health checks. The proposals have received overwhelming support from medical groups.

“The addition of an HIV test to a routine STI panel is a public health investment,” said Januari Fox, director of policy advocacy and community engagement for Prism Health North Texas, during the committee hearing. “It eliminates preconceived notions of who is or isn’t affected by HIV and quickly moves the newly diagnosed into treatment.”

LGBTQ advocates similarly cheer the legislation.

“Rep. Jones’ lived experience offers Texans a critically necessary perspective,” Ricardo Martinez, CEO of Equality Texas, said Thursday. “Representation matters.”

Disclosure: Equality Texas and Prism Health North Texas have been financial supporters of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune’s journalism. Find a complete list of them here.

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