December 15, 2011
A new study finds that 5 percent of dental offices in Los Angeles County have a blanket ban on serving people living with HIV/AIDS (PLWHA). English- and Spanish-speaking people trained as "testers" called 612 dental offices during 2007-08, posing as HIV-positive potential new patients. The testers said they had private dental insurance as well as Denti-Cal, a benefit under California's Medicaid program, noted the researchers from the William Institute at University of California-Los Angeles.
While most (90 percent) clinics were welcoming of HIV-positive patients, 5 percent had an unlawful policy of refusing to treat any PLWHA. The remaining 5 percent said they would treat these clients differently in ways that could potentially violate anti-discrimination laws.
The most popular excuse for refusing service was being ill-equipped to handle patients with HIV/AIDS. Instances of discrimination were higher in areas with high HIV infection rates, neighborhoods with more low-income people, and areas that would serve more people of color. Rates of discrimination are likely higher in other areas of the United States, suggested the institute's Brad Sears and colleagues. In Sears' previous research between 2003 and 2006, 55 percent of obstetricians, 46 percent of skilled nursing facilities and 25 percent of plastic surgeons had blanket policies of refusing service to people with HIV/AIDS.
"The study suggests that consistent legal enforcement and education efforts, both during dental school and afterwards, have had a positive effect on dentists, and have thus created expanded access to care for PLWHA," Sears said.
To access the report, visit: http://williamsinstitute.law.ucla.edu/wp-content/uploads/Sears-HIV-Discrimination-Dental-Care-Dec-2011.pdf.