California Bill Requiring Physicians, Laboratories To Report Names of New HIV Cases Worth Privacy Risks, Editorial Says
A California Senate bill (SB 945) that would require physicians and laboratories in the state to report to county health officials the names of all people newly diagnosed with HIV carries some patient privacy risks, but the "higher risk lies in not accurately tracking the disease," a Los Angeles Times editorial says. The measure -- which is sponsored by state Sen. Nell Soto (D) and is scheduled to be heard on Tuesday in the state Senate Judiciary Committee -- would change the current system of reporting HIV cases using a unique-identifier structure to named-based reporting, as is the case for HIV reporting in 36 other states and for AIDS case reporting in California, according to the Times. Many public health officials say the code-based system is "inaccurate, inefficient and expensive," and CDC recommends name-based reporting as "more accurate and cost effective," the editorial says. In addition, the federal government in 2006 will allocate HIV/AIDS funding to states based on the number of reported HIV cases, according to the editorial. Therefore, without the "verification" that names-based reporting provides, states "stand to lose needed federal dollars," the Times says. However, some HIV/AIDS advocacy groups that oppose the bill are citing privacy concerns highlighted by a case in which a Palm Beach County Health Department statistician in February accidentally attached a list of 6,500 HIV-positive individuals in Palm Beach County, Fla., to a routine e-mail to 800 health department employees, according to the Times. But the health department's "quick response" to purge all of the e-mails prevented widespread distribution of the names, the editorial says. Although the release of the e-mail was a "terrible mistake," the "risks of not keeping a handle on the spread of HIV" are greater, the editorial says, adding, "[B]ecause early treatment can at least delay the onset of AIDS, tracking HIV has become key to containing the epidemic" (Los Angeles Times, 5/3).This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.