Maine Lawmakers To Hear Bills on State’s HIV Testing Consent Requirements, Counseling Laws
Maine lawmakers this legislative session will consider two bills that would amend the state's consent and counseling requirements for HIV testing in an effort to ensure the tests are more widely performed, the Portland Press Herald reports. The first bill (SP 180), sponsored by Sen. Lisa Marrache (D), would remove current regulations that require written consent for HIV testing, as well as mandatory counseling before and after tests, according to the Press Herald. Under Marrache's proposal, people could opt out of HIV testing in writing, and health care providers would have to inform patients that samples are being taken for HIV testing and give people the opportunity to decline the test. The second bill (HP 345), sponsored by Rep. Lisa Miller (D), would remove the state's pretest counseling requirement and replace the written consent form with a requirement that people be told orally or in writing that they will be tested for HIV. The bills follow revised HIV testing recommendations issued by CDC last year (Kim, Portland Press Herald, 3/14). CDC in September 2006 released revised recommendations on HIV testing in the U.S. The recommendations advise that HIV tests become a routine part of medical care for people ages 13 to 64 and that requirements for written consent and pretest counseling be dropped (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 3/15). Both bills were scheduled to go before the state Health and Human Services Committee on Thursday.
"I think what we all care about is early identification of" HIV cases, "getting the mainstream medical case system to treat them right and control this disease," Miller said. She added that she expects the health committee to pass one bill that blends the provisions of her measure with those of Marrache's. Marrache said her measure informs people about testing while removing barriers that are not in place for testing of other diseases, such as hepatitis B. "Why are we taking this one and making it so onerous?" she said. The Maine HIV Advisory Committee -- a group that includes people who are living with HIV/AIDS, health care providers, advocates and state officials -- has endorsed Miller's bill, with some opposition by individual members. The group unanimously has rejected Marrache's measure. Martin Sabol -- chair of the advisory committee and manager of Portland, Maine's, infectious disease program -- said key factors in Miller's bill include its requirement that test results be given in person and that post-test counseling remain mandatory. The Maine Civil Liberties Union opposes both proposals, and the Maine CDC supports Miller's bill. Some opponents to both bills have said that they are concerned about privacy and the possibility that people will be tested without their knowledge, the Press Herald reports. There are an estimated 1,600 people living with HIV in Maine, but only 1,100 are aware of their status, Mark Griswold, a state HIV/AIDS epidemiologist, said. About 40% of people in the state who are newly diagnosed with HIV are diagnosed with AIDS within one year, he said (Portland Press Herald, 3/14).