MA Senate Bill Requires Verbal Consent Before HIV Test Can Be Administered

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By: Christine Nicco/TRT Reporter–

BOSTON, Mass–The Massachusetts State Senate today passed a bill that would require verbal consent, instead of written, before an HIV test can be administered in Mass.

The Bill, “An Act To Increase Routine Screening of HIV” simplifies and transforms the Commonwealth’s current HIV testing laws—changing the required written consent prior to administering an HIV test.

Several Boston health organizations were quick to share their response to the bill.

Fenway Health

Dr. Stephen L. Boswell, Fenway Health’s President & CEO, issued the following statement:

“Fenway health as the largest LGBT organization in New England has been vigorously advocating for routine HIV testing as recommended by the Centers for Disease Control six years ago. We are pleased to see our legislators addressing the need to update our HIV testing procedures and the laws that govern them. Last year’s proposed bill was very stigmatizing for persons with HIV infection and communities at risk for HIV infection and it dictated clinical practice in ways that compromise patient care. We believe the bill that passed the Senate today is a significant improvement over what was initially proposed.

“However, there remain significant problems with the Senate bill that can and must be addressed. The bill significantly hinders communication among clinicians treating those who are HIV positive – communication that is central to the safe care of all patients, including those who are HIV positive. In urgent situations, timely communication among clinicians can mean the difference between life and death. The Massachusetts Medical Society, Multicultural AIDS Coalition, Massachusetts Infectious Disease Society, Fenway Health and over 120 physicians who care for most of the HIV positive patients in the Commonwealth remain very concerned that the current version of the bill compromises the care of HIV positive patients.   We remain committed to advocate for changes that will assure HIV positive patients the same high quality care that all other citizens of Massachusetts have come to expect.”

AIDS Action Committee

AIDS Action Committee President and CEO Rebecca Haag issued the following statement in response to the Senate vote: “AIDS Action Committee has long supported expanded HIV testing in Massachusetts, and this bill will help make that happen. There are an estimated 25,000 to 27,000 people living with HIV/AIDS in Massachusetts, but approximately 21% of them are unaware that they are HIV positive according to estimates by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control. We cannot end the AIDS epidemic in Massachusetts if those who are HIV positive are unaware of their status. Increased HIV testing will help get those infected into care and treatment earlier and will result in better health outcomes and lower health care costs for those who are living with HIV.

“We are grateful to Senator Patricia Jehlen for her tenacity and commitment on this important issue and to Senate President Therese Murray whose leadership made passage of this bill possible.

“Massachusetts has long been a national leader in the fight against AIDS. New diagnoses of HIV have declined by 54% since 1999 which will result in $2B savings in health care costs. However, many challenges remain. Too many people aren’t engaging in care and treatment until late in their disease state; stigma attached to HIV/AIDS status remains strong in many communities; and fewer resources are available to those infected, affected, and at risk for HIV. The AIDS Action Committee is committed to working with clinicians, patients, families, and advocates to reduce other barriers that stand in the way of ending this epidemic. Today is a huge step forward in achieving our goals.”

Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders (GLAD)

Ben Klein, from AIDS Law Project Director at Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders (GLAD), issued the following statement:

“This bill addresses the issue that doctors have said is troublesome to them – written consent for HIV testing – while still maintaining the strong patient privacy protections so critical to stopping the spread of HIV in Massachusetts. We appreciate the Senate’s role, especially the work of Senator Patricia and Senate President Therese Murray, in reaching this compromise.

“Our state has been extremely successful in identifying HIV infection and preventing its spread, in large part because of our strong protections for patients and their privacy.

“The real barrier to HIV testing has been that not enough doctors are offering the test.  It’s now time for the medical community to step up and do their part. “

ABOUT

Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders (GLAD) is New England’s leading legal organization dedicated to ending discrimination based on sexual orientation, HIV status, and gender identity and expression.

AIDS Action Committee of Massachusetts is the state’s leading provider of prevention and wellness services for people vulnerable to HIV infection. It provides services to one in six people in Massachusetts living with an HIV diagnosis. These services include HIV counseling and testing; needle exchange; mental health counseling; housing assistance; and legal services. AIDS Action works to prevent new HIV infections, support those affected by HIV, and tackle the root causes of HIV/AIDS by educating the public and health professionals about HIV prevention and care; and advocating for fair and effective HIV/AIDS policy at the city, state, and federal levels. Founded in 1983, AIDS Action Committee of Massachusetts is New England’s first and largest AIDS service organization. Learn more at www.aac.org.

For more than forty years, Fenway Health has been working to make life healthier for the people in our neighborhood, the LGBT community, people living with HIV/AIDS and the broader population.  The Fenway Institute at Fenway Health is an interdisciplinary center for research, training, education and policy development focusing on national and international health issues. Fenway’s Sidney Borum Jr. Health Center cares for youth and young adults ages 12 to 29 who may not feel comfortable going anywhere else, including those who are LGBT or just figuring things out; homeless or living on the streets; struggling with substance use or abuse; sex workers; or living with HIV/AIDS.

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