Activists, Lawmakers Urge Pennsylvania Health Department to Drop HIV Names-Based Reporting Plan
A group of Pennsylvania legislators and AIDS activists have asked the state Health Department to reconsider its proposal requiring physicians to report the names of patients who test positive for HIV, saying at a state Capitol news conference yesterday that such reporting methods would discourage people from being tested, the Philadelphia Inquirer reports. Rep. Michael Sturla (D) said, "We're not saying that we shouldn't do reporting ... just saying not to do it by names, because you'll do as much damage as you do good." In a letter sent to the Health Department, former and current Pennsylvania state lawmakers and New York City Council members said, "Not only has names reporting had no measurable impact on the anonymous transmission of HIV, it has discouraged people in the highest-risk categories from even being tested, leaving HIV infections to progress to the point of illness, and failing to prevent transmission of the virus." Lawmakers suggested the state instead track data through code-based reporting, in which patients are reported by "unique identifiers" rather than by names. But the Health Department called such reporting "difficult and not as accurate" as names reporting (Wiggins, Philadelphia Inquirer, 6/5). Pennsylvania Department of Health officials said that the names would remain "strictly confidential" and would help the state to monitor the spread of the disease and provide treatment access to HIV-positive patients. They noted that the CDC in 1999 recommended that all states adopt names-based reporting and that 39 states currently use this system. The Pennsylvania Independent Regulatory Review Commission has until June 21 to provide comments on names-based reporting to the health department (May, AP/Nando Times, 6/5). Pennsylvania is one of 11 states that does not have an HIV reporting system, although the state does require doctors and clinics to report AIDS cases. The AIDS-only reporting system means that the state's statistics on the spread of the virus are "in effect" seven to 10 years out of date because AIDS can take that long from the time of infection to develop. Health department officials say that the state has "no sure way of knowing" if it is facing a growing HIV epidemic and cannot make "informed decisions" about how to spend the $22 million it receives from the federal government for treatment and prevention programs (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 4/3).This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.