Calif. Lawmakers Consider Tracking HIV Patients by Name

Gretchen Gallen
LOS ANGELES – In a move that could potentially create privacy concerns for HIV-infected individuals, California lawmakers are considering a bill that would allow health officials to track HIV cases by name, rather than the previous system that has been in place since the AIDS epidemic hit in the late 1970s.

The bill, SB 699, was authored by Democratic Sen. Nell Soto and was approved by the state Senate earlier this week. The bill is considered an “urgency measure” and will take effect immediately if it is approved by the Legislature and then signed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Currently, HIV-infected patients are traced through a coding system, but the bill calls for a names-based reporting process that would reveal the identities of individuals with HIV to state officials, outside of the confidence of their primary care providers.

According to Soto, the reason for the proposed legislation is because the federal government is expected to revise the criteria it uses in deciding which states receive AIDS benefits, and how much they receive. If the bill is not approved, California could lose an estimated $50 million in government AIDS funding.

Last year, California received more than $223 million in funding.

Dr. Sharon Mitchell of the Adult Industry Medical Health Care Foundation (AIM) told XBiz she is very pleased with the new bill and feels it’s about time the process is revised.

“We in the adult industry, through AIM Health Care have been tracking adult performers through their stage names since our inception in 1998, and I think the general public has really come to realize that the diagnosis of HIV is nothing to hide, nothing to be ashamed about and nothing to shame any one about,” she said. “With that in mind, I think that keeping confidential results when it come to any type of illness that is an infectious disease is an aberration.”

California's HIV reporting system, which some call antiquated and highly inefficient, uses alphanumeric codes that incorporate a patient's birth date, gender and elements of their last name. Critics of the current system feel it doesn’t provide accurate statistics on the state's HIV epidemic because many reported cases are believed to be lost when doctors and laboratories send incorrect or incomplete codes or fail to keep required patient data.

Under the terms of SB 699, state residents seeking HIV antibody tests will still be able to do so anonymously, but if they test positive and seek medical care, they will automatically be added to the list. However, if they do not seek treatment, they will only be entered into an interim database.

Those in opposition to the bill fear it could create a wave of fear among HIV-infected people seeking medical care.

Thirty-nine other states currently have the names-based reporting system in place in order to continue receiving AIDS money from the government.

The AIDS Healthcare Foundation, the nation's largest AIDS group, is fully in favor of the bill and was one of the original co-sponsors along with the Los Angeles County Commission on HIV, the Department of Health Services and the Health Officers Association of California.

If passed, California health officials would have one year to implement the new system.