Rhode Island Physicians Call on Lawmakers To Pass Legislation That Would Eliminate HIV Test Written Consent Requirement
Several physicians in Rhode Island are calling on the General Assembly to pass legislation (HB 8271) that would waive a requirement that people receiving an HIV test sign a written consent form, the Providence Journal reports. According to the Journal, proponents of the bill are calling on the Assembly to pass the measure before the legislative session adjourns, which could be as early as Friday.
Under the measure, sponsored by Rep. Eileen Naughton (D), it would be illegal to administer an HIV test without patients' knowledge or consent. However, doctors would no longer be required to obtain written consent, which some health workers say is a hindrance to early testing. The medical community has said the measure preserves adequate pretest counseling. In addition, the bill could help reduce costs because HIV-positive people would be diagnosed at an earlier stage of the disease, Nicole Alexander, an infectious-diseases physician at Rhode Island Hospital, said.
Health workers "are seeing people who have not had HIV testing previously, so we're finding HIV very late in the course of their disease," Alexander said, adding, "This is something that could have been prevented if we could have eliminated the barriers" to early testing.
American Civil Liberties Union Rhode Island is opposed to the measure, saying that it would reduce pretest counseling. Steven Brown, executive director of ACLU Rhode Island, said, "The doctors are acting as if that piece of paper is such an incredible burden that they can't give anybody tests." He added that the group's position is that "informed consent is a very important criterion" to HIV testing because HIV-associated stigma and discrimination "remains really great."
According to the Journal, HIV cases are increasing in the state, especially among heterosexual women. Experts estimate there are about 500 HIV-positive people living in the state who are unaware of their status. "Those 500 people will cause more than half of the estimated 130" newly diagnosed cases next year, Brian Alverson, a pediatrician at Hasbro Children's Hospital and professor at Brown University's Alpert Medical School, said. "If these 500 people are tested, transmission rates will fall dramatically," Alverson added (Needham, Providence Journal, 6/19).