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Drugstores Offer Free Rapid HIV Testing In Time for Pride

by Winnie McCroy

EDGE Editor

Thursday June 27, 2013

Today, June 27 is National HIV Testing Day, and health departments and local AIDS organizations across the country have teamed up national drug store chains including Walgreens and Duane Reade to offer free rapid HIV testing, just in time for Gay Pride.

"The expanded offering of testing at drugs stores -- in neighborhoods or where people work -- is a crucial measure for people who do not know their status and those at risk of HIV," said Lynnette Ford, MSW, director of the David Geffen Center for HIV Prevention and Health Education at GMHC. "Being offered an HIV test at these stores will also decrease HIV-related stigma."

From June 27 to June 29, New York City's Gay Men's Health Crisis has partnered up with Walgreens, Duane Reade, Greater Than AIDS, William F. Ryan Community Health Center, Center for Health, Identity, Behavior and Prevention Studies (CHIBPS), APICHA Community Health Center and the DOHMH to increase opportunities for testing which will allow more New Yorkers to take charge of their health, and access the treatment and care they need.

Of the more than 1.2 million people living with HIV in the U.S. today, an estimated one in five, or nearly a quarter of a million people, do not know it. New York, with approximately 110,000 residents known to be living with HIV or AIDS (more than any other state), is the epicenter of the epidemic, according to the New York City Health Department. In fact, HIV is the third leading cause of death for New York City residents aged 35 to 54.

One-third of those who are HIV-positive are diagnosed so late in the course of their infection they develop AIDS within one year. Early diagnosis and treatment help save lives and are known to reduce the spread of HIV. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOHMH) encourage everyone to know their HIV status.

Walgreens, the nation’s largest drugstore chain and Greater Than AIDS are teaming with health departments and local AIDS organizations across the country to provide free HIV testing at Walgreens Pharmacies and Duane Reade. Testing will take place June 27-28, from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m., and June 29 from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. (please confirm with your local participating drug store here.

In New York City’s Union Square on June 27, the Community Healthcare Network (CHN) will provide all-day free rapid HIV tests and Hepatitis C screenings, as well as meningitis vaccines. The event also includes free massages, snacks, life coaching and stretching workshops while you wait for your rapid test results. The CHN’s mobile van will be in the park from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Each of these locations will be using the OraQuick ADVANCE® Rapid HIV-1/2 Antibody Test, which detects antibodies to HIV-1 and HIV-2 in 20 minutes using a simple oral swab or fingerstick. This is the same test that was approved for over-the-counter use in 2012 and has been on drug store shelves since October. Rapid HIV testing ensures that 100 percent of people tested can receive their initial HIV test results in the same visit and get connected to the care they need to live longer, healthier lives.

In Atlanta, Swizz Beatz & Juanes are encouraging people to #Test4Life as part of a campaign spearheaded by Lifebeat in partnership with the CDC and MTV’s GYT Now. provides information of where anyone, anywhere, can get tested:

HIV Testing To Be Covered By Obamacare

Also in observance of National HIV Testing Day, The AIDS Institute has issued a coverage guide for HIV testing to help health providers learn how each major payer, including private insurance, Medicaid and Medicare, reimburses for preventive services, including HIV testing.

"The combination of a new recommendation in strong support of routine HIV testing by the US Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) and the Affordable Care Act (ACA) has for the most part removed the cost barrier to HIV testing, specifically routine HIV testing," said Carl Schmid, deputy executive director of The AIDS Institute.

As described in the coverage guide, routine HIV testing is currently or soon will be covered or incentivized by private insurance plans, Medicaid, and Medicare. This is due to two significant events: an "A" grade for routine HIV testing issued by the USPSTF in April, 2013, and implementation of the ACA, which in many cases requires payers to cover "A" and "B" graded services.

And because of health reform, millions of people will gain access to health coverage through an expansion of Medicaid, private insurance market places, and insurance reforms. Included in these coverage reforms is required coverage of free or low-cost preventive services, primarily driven by grades from the USPSTF.

"Now, it is essential that medical providers implement the new USPSTF recommendation and offer HIV testing to their patients on a routine basis," said Michael Ruppal, Executive Director of The AIDS Institute. "It is also important for clinics and health departments that provide HIV testing to develop systems and expertise to bill for these services. We know there can be barriers to routine HIV testing and there are other essential components and costs of testing programs that will not be covered through reimbursement, but with coverage of HIV testing, one barrier to making HIV screening routine has been reduced, and we can take a significant step forward toward making routine HIV testing a reality."

For more information about getting tested please go to

Winnie McCroy is the Women on the EDGE Editor, HIV/Health Editor, and Assistant Entertainment Editor for EDGE Media Network, handling all women's news, HIV health stories and theater reviews throughout the U.S. She has contributed to other publications, including The Village Voice, Gay City News, Chelsea Now and The Advocate, and lives in Brooklyn, New York.