Bill could destigmatize AIDS testing
In unspoken recognition of World AIDS Day, the state Senate unanimously passed legislation Wednesday aiming to destigmatize HIV testing.
The bill would amend the Public Health Code to modify the HIV pre-test information given to patients.
Physicians would be required to provide information on the test procedure, how the results are used and how HIV is transmitted.
It also would require negative test results to be delivered through normal health care provider procedures, which frequently include sending a postcard or letter by mail.
Currently, physicians are required to deliver results personally or by phone, said Ed Kettle, chief of staff for state Rep. Roy Schmidt, D-Grand Rapids, who sponsored the bill.
Patients still would be allowed to take the test anonymously.
The state House of Representatives passed the legislation unanimously in March. With support of both houses, the bill soon should make it to Gov. Jennifer Granholm for her signature into law.
The governor has not reviewed the proposed changes and does not know yet if she will sign, Granholm’s spokeswoman Katie Carey said.
The legislation aims to remove the large burden of secrecy carried by HIV testing and make the process easier for physician and patient, Kettle said.
“Right now, there is quite a process that doctors have to go through to get patients to agree to being tested for AIDS,” Kettle said. “It causes people to worry about it more and think it over more. We want people to be informed, but we had to find a better way to do it.”
Spectrum Health, a West Michigan health organization, first suggested changes to the HIV testing procedures after a mother was too intimidated to get a test and her infant was born HIV positive without treatment, Kettle said.
Schmidt took up the issue at the organization’s urging, Kettle said.
Currently, patients must receive a booklet about HIV published by the Michigan Department of Community Health and receive counseling before taking a test, said Erica Phillipich, an educator at Olin Health Center’s Center for Sexual Health Promotion.
She said she is uncertain what exactly the bill aims to change.
“(The pre-testing period is) actually an opportunity for someone to have a conversation (about) whatever questions they have,” Phillipich said. “The main point of the actual discussion is to talk about what brought that person in (and) how they can reduce the likelihood that’s going to happen again.”
Every year, Olin Health Center tests about 300 to 500 students for HIV, said Dennis Martell, coordinator for health education at MSU.
“Anything that removes the stigma from being tested is a good thing because there shouldn’t be a stigma about getting tested,” Martell said. “It’s like getting tested for anything these days. It’s important for people to know their status.”
If signed, the legislation will take effect Jan. 1, 2011.