South Dakota Senate Committee To Consider Bill Allowing Health Department To Release Confidential HIV Records
The South Dakota Senate Judiciary Committee today is set to hold a hearing on a bill (HB 1019) that would authorize state health officials to notify prosecutors if they believe a person is "intentionally spreading" HIV, the Associated Press reports. The bill would allow the South Dakota Department of Health to release a person's HIV status, which is "otherwise confidential" information, to prosecutors if a judge orders the department to do so. Under current state law, doctors must report all cases of contagious diseases to the health department, but it is not permitted to make public the identities of those people, according to the Associated Press. State Health Secretary Doneen Hollingsworth said, "Protecting the public's health is our number one priority in the health department. There is potentially a greater public health risk if we're not able to provide that information to law enforcement in very, very rare instances." But opponents of the bill said it would cast the health department in the role of prosecutor. Jennifer Ring, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of the Dakotas, said, "It's blurring the line between the health department and prosecutors that is a real problem to us." Others said that the measure could end up blocking access to care, the Associated Press reports. Zita Lazzarini, a public health lawyer at the University of Connecticut Medical School and Harvard School of Public Health, said, "Many people at risk for HIV will not seek testing if they believe law enforcement authorities will be able to easily access their test results," adding that the release of HIV status information "should not be allowed at the discretion of public health officials alone." However, Hollingsworth said, "Our law is very, very clear of how confidential medical reports should be" (Pierce, Associated Press, 2/24).This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.