Updates from the Committee on Health

New HIV Policies Become Law
Paterson signs bills on HIV testing and syringe disposal
December 21, 2010

New laws to promote HIV testing and safe disposal of syringes were signed by Governor Paterson on Friday. Both bills were sponsored by Assembly Health Committee chair Richard N. Gottfried and Senate Health Committee chair Thomas K. Duane.

The HIV testing bill (A.11487, S. 8227) comes after several years of negotiations among legislators, community organizations, and health care providers. Many of the provisions are taken from bills drafted by Gottfried, Duane, and the State Department of Health.

“Many HIV-positive New Yorkers do not know they are infected, so they don’t get treatment. It is critically important for them and for public health that we get more people tested,” said Gottfried. “This landmark legislation will simplify the process for HIV testing, require the offering of HIV testing in many health care settings, and thus save lives.”

The syringe safe disposal bill will encourage safe disposal of used syringes by barring the arrest of a person for possessing a legally-obtained syringe, even if it contains a leftover microscopic amount of a controlled substance. It had been submitted to the Legislature by Governor Paterson.

“Throwing an infected syringe into the gutter, out of fear of prosecution for possession of a trace of substance, increases the danger of someone getting HIV or other serious infection from a needle stick,” said Assembly Member Richard N. Gottfried, Chair of the Assembly Health Committee and sponsor of the bill (A.8396-A, S.5620-A). “Stopping the arrest of drug users for possessing a used needle is a common sense way to protect public health and safety.”

One in four New Yorkers living with HIV are unaware of their status. Approximately 50 to 70 percent of new infections are caused by people who are unaware of their status. Communities of color and young MSM (men who have sex with men) are disproportionately impacted.

“Offering HIV testing to everyone is a policy that works,” Gottfried said. “When the New York City Health and Hospitals Corporation (HHC) began to routinely offer testing to all patients in many of its hospitals and clinics, the number of people tested for HIV increased 116%.”

“I thank Governor David Paterson, Senator Thomas K. Duane, Assembly Members Darryl Towns, Nettie Mayersohn, and Annette Robinson, and the HIV/AIDS service community for their support for the HIV testing legislation,” Gottfried added. Among the supporters of the bill are: the City of New York, GMHC (Gay Men’s Health Crisis), Harlem United, the Latino Commission on AIDS, the National Black Leadership Commission on AIDS, Inc., the New York State Academy of Family Physicians, the New York AIDS Coalition, and the New York State Nurses Association.

SUMMARY OF EXPANDED HIV TESTING LAW

• Oral rather than written consent may be used for rapid HIV testing (i.e., a test that produces results in less than one hour), except in prisons or jails.

• Allows an HIV test consent to be included in a “general” consent or a form that covers multiple procedures. A separate HIV consent form would no longer be required. Someone who does not want to be tested would check off a box to decline.

• Consent would be “durable.” Once a patient consents, the provider or clinic would not have to get a new consent or repeat giving pre-test information on later visits.

• Pre-consent and post-test information would be simplified and can be provided in writing (not requiring spoken counseling).

• Testing would be required to be offered to patients aged 13 to 64 in hospital emergency rooms, inpatient care, and primary care in all settings (including physician offices), with some exceptions.

• When a patient tests HIV positive, the provider must offer to arrange for referral for treatment.

• Where a health care worker is potentially exposed to HIV by a patient, and the patient lacks capacity to consent to being tested, testing may be ordered without the patient’s consent.

• Public health agencies will be able to use information obtained through HIV name reporting for monitoring consistency and quality of follow-up treatment.

• If a patient dies, HIV-related information could be provided to the executor or administrator of the estate as necessary for estate administration.