June 14, 2002
The 4-1 vote by the Independent Regulatory Review Commission, which clears the way for the regulation to take effect later this year, followed several hours of testimony by Health Department officials who pushed for the reporting requirement and AIDS activists who have fought it for more than a year.
"This will not work. This will drive the most vulnerable people, the people at greatest risk, underground," said Alicia Beatty, director of the Circle of Care, a Philadelphia organization that helps 800 families affected by AIDS. State officials emphasized that the new HIV reporting system will be kept strictly confidential -- like the similar reporting on AIDS patients that has been required of doctors and hospitals for nearly 22 years. The HIV reporting requirement will apply not only to doctors and hospitals but also to laboratories, HIV counselors and other professionals who receive the blood test results.
More than 26,000 AIDS cases have been reported in the state, and the Health Department estimates that another 30,000 Pennsylvanians are HIV-positive. Health Secretary Robert S. Zimmerman Jr. said a name-based reporting system is the best way to ensure that people with HIV get information about AIDS and possible treatment at the time they are most likely to use it -- when they are tested or informed of the results. It also will provide a more accurate picture of the HIV problem in Pennsylvania, as the federal government prepares to change its funding formula for HIV/AIDS programs to reflect the actual number of HIV cases in each state, he said.