MASSACHUSETTS: To Require Reporting Of HIV Cases
"For the first time, Massachusetts health care providers will soon have to report all cases of HIV infection to the state, according to a Department of Public Health decision to be announced today," the Boston Globe reports. However, Massachusetts is "breaking ranks with 31 states by adopting an HIV reporting system that uses a number identifier, not a person's name, in the state records." Only two other states, Maryland and Texas, require HIV reporting by numerical identifier rather than by name. Meanwhile, "states with some of the biggest numbers of HIV and AIDS cases --California and New York -- are in the midst of a name vs. number debate." Massachusetts' former policy, which required health workers to report only fully-developed AIDS cases, "led to planning and resource allocation that was inconsistent with emerging demographics and the epidemic," according to Nicolas Carballeira, director of the Latino Health Institute.
Urgency And Privacy
AIDS activists hailed the decision for striking a balance between the need to identify HIV-infected individuals and the desirability of protecting confidentiality so as not to discourage people from testing. Robert Greenwald, director of public policy and legal affairs for the AIDS Action Committee of Massachusetts, noted that "protecting the confidentiality of HIV-positive people may be even more urgent ... given the status of anti-discrimination law" under the Americans with Disabilities Act. While the ADA explicitly protects AIDS patients from discrimination, a pending U.S. Supreme Court case will decide whether HIV-positive individuals will be afforded similar protection. The new tracking policy will be announced by Public Health Commissioner Howard Koh this morning at the monthly meeting of the Massachusetts Public Health Council. The state will institute the policy once it establishes a reporting system (Kong, 2/24).