PA is out of step with federal HIV testing recommendations

    Pennsylvania’s Senate health panel is backing a bill designed to get more people tested for the AIDS virus. The change would lift the requirement that a patient sign a separate consent form agreeing to be tested for HIV.

    Pennsylvania’s Senate health panel is backing a bill designed to get more people tested for the AIDS virus. The change would lift the requirement that a patient sign a separate consent form agreeing to be tested for HIV.

    Health officials call it an “opt-out” approach to HIV screening because people are tested as part of routine medical care unless they explicitly decline – or opt-out.

    Ronda Goldfein leads the AIDS Law Project of Pennsylvania.

    Goldfein: We need the roll out of widespread testing, absolutely, but let’s do it in a way that makes sense, in a way that doesn’t cause us to run unnecessary tests for people who truly don’t need them and doesn’t erode patient protections.

    The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention began recommending opt-out testing four years ago. Health officials say the policy could save lives by identifying people with HIV earlier and getting them linked with care.

    The CDC strategy is to test everyone age 13 to 64 rather than trying to determine who’s engaged in high-risk behavior.

    Nurit Shein leads the Mazzoni Center, which provides medical care in the Philadelphia region.

    Shein: Where the difficulty lies, is that we need to have a lot of clinician education prior to implementing this.

    Shein says the law should make sure health providers inform patients that they will receive an HIV test and give them the option not to take it, even if an explicit consent is not required.

    Officials with the Pennsylvania Medical Society say the Commonwealth should change to an opt-out consent policy.

    Opponents of the proposal agree that there is a need for more widespread testing, but they say that goal can be accomplished without removing the onus from patients.

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