* Agency weighs whether to pay for screening, counseling
* Most tests aimed at women, disabled patients
* Proposed decision expected in August
WASHINGTON, Feb 24 U.S. health officials are considering including tests for sexually transmitted diseases like syphilis and hepatitis B for the elderly and disabled covered under Medicare.
The national health insurance program, which already pays for HIV tests, said on Thursday that it was considering adding the additional STD exams as part of an initiative to cover more preventive care.
Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) officials are expected to announce a draft decision by Aug. 24.
Americans are living longer, and Medicare's review comes as researchers find more older Americans remaining sexually active.
Most sexually transmitted infection tests under consideration are aimed at people at high risk for such diseases. Most are for women and some specifically for pregnant women, who are included in Medicare's disabled beneficiaries.
Nearly 39 million Americans age 65 and older are covered under the insurance program as well as 7.6 million disabled.
Public health experts say early screening and preventive care can cost less in the long run by avoiding complications that can arise from delayed treatment. In this case, it could also help prevent the spread of infection to others.
CMS has had the power to add coverage for preventive services since 2009, and Medicare already covers pap smears and pelvic exams in addition to screening tests for colorectal cancer and diabetes.
Specifically, Medicare is now considering testing for:
* chlamydial infection for sexually active or pregnant women aged 24 and younger and for older, sexually active or pregnant women at higher risk
* gonorrhea infection in all sexually active or pregnant women if they are at increased risk
* hepatitis B virus infection in pregnant women
* syphilis infection for all those at increased risk
* high-intensity behavioral counseling to prevent infection for sexually active adolescents and for adults at greater risk (Reporting by Susan Heavey; Editing by David Storey)