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HIV Testing Bill Sponsored By Jehlen Passes Senate

State Senator Patricia Jehlen's bill to allow verbal consent for HIV tests passed in the Senate and has been sent to the Massachusetts House of Representatives.

Article and info provided by Senator Jehlen's Office:

On Thursday, the Senate passed a bill that will expand HIV testing in Massachusetts.  The bill, sponsored by Senator Patricia Jehlen (D-Somerville), makes testing easier by removing burdensome written consent testing requirements while still retaining all of the patient privacy protections currently in the law.  The law puts Massachusetts in line with 48 other states in allowing patients to verbally consent to HIV tests.

“This bill will save lives, expand testing, reduce new infections, and save the Commonwealth money,” said Sen. Jehlen.  “This bill is the result of collaboration among many groups, including doctors and advocates for those living with HIV.  A large number of doctors have told us in no uncertain terms that this small but significant change will enable them to get many more patients tested. This is particularly significant for pregnant women who, if not tested, can transmit the disease to their children. With early detection and treatment, risk of transmission can be virtually eliminated.”

Since 2006, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has recommended that HIV testing become more standard, similar to those for blood sugar or cholesterol. However, Massachusetts is currently one of only two states in the country requiring written consent to get an HIV test.

The bill requires doctors to only obtain verbal consent before testing patients for HIV. It also states that physicians, health care providers, institutions and laboratories will not be held liable in criminal or civil actions as a result of sharing HIV information with the Department of Public Health.

According to the CDC, there are approximately one million people infected with HIV in the United States, with as many as 17,000 known to be living with the virus in Massachusetts. It is estimated that there are another 5000 Massachusetts residents living with the disease who have not been tested and do not know there status.  These individuals are not being treated and may be transmitting the disease to others. Because of state investments in prevention and care, there has been a 59 percent reduction in new cases of HIV in the Massachusetts between 1999 and 2008, and a 37 percent reduction since 2005. No other state has achieved such a dramatic reduction.   

The bill now goes to the House of Representatives.

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