“It was one of the primary issues I promised to address on the campaign trail, and I feel I’m right on schedule to do that,” said 8th District state Representative LaShawn K. Ford about the HIV/AIDS crisis within the community he represents.
To that end, shortly after being sworn into the Illinois House of Representatives, Ford sponsored a bill that he felt would change the way HIV testing would be administered.
House Bill 980 would remove a state requirement that people receiving HIV tests provide written consent prior to undergoing the test. It would enact recommendations released last year by the Center for Disease Control (CDC) that says HIV tests should be part of routine medical care for people age 13 to 64 and that requirements for written consent and pretest counseling should be dropped.
In addition, the measure would also repeal elements of the state’s AIDS Confidentiality Act, which was passed nearly 20 years ago. The act states that people cannot be tested for HIV without their knowledge.
Critics, most notably from the AIDS Foundation of Chicago (AFC) and the AIDS Legal Council of Chicago, opposed the bill, arguing that counseling should be available before and after testing to ensure people understand the results and have access to treatment.
John Peller, director of state affairs for AFC, told the Associated Press that “if tests are not done correctly, people could really be alienated from the health care system.” He added that “for many people, there’s still a tremendous, deep stigma about testing positive for HIV.” Fisher also said he is concerned people might receive HIV tests without their knowledge.
However, Ford insists that confidentiality would remain a key component in HIV testing if the bill is passed. He adds that although he admittedly needed more specificity with regards to the guidelines of HIV testing without written consent in the bill, he now feels that adhering to the privacy of those who are tested is more directly stated.
“No one will be given an HIV test without their consent,” said Ford, who worked with the CDC and AFC to make revisions in the language of the bill. “They will be given the option to have the test as part of their routine physical but can always opt out. It would not be forced upon them or given without their knowledge.”
Ford states that one still would have to give written consent to receive hospital treatment, but would not have to specifically request testing for HIV in writing. All results will be made known only to the patient, and he will receive information on treatment options if he chooses not to opt out of the test.
Ford adds that part of the problem he has with HIV/AIDS screening today is that it forces testers to go through several levels of discomfort to find out if they have the disease, consequently making them less likely to want to be tested.
“You have to find a clinic that will give you the test. You have to answer all sorts of questions about your sexual history like, ‘Have you ever had sex for money?’ and ‘How many partners have you had?'” said Ford. “Would you want to go through all these questions and pre-test counseling just to know your status? It makes people uncomfortable and less likely to want to be tested.”
The bill passed in the House on May 7, and now goes to the senate where Ford says it has several potential sponsors.