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It's the Law! What Is?

March 1999

In January 1999, Body Positive reported in detail on important new legislation affecting New York State residents who test HIV-positive. It's still not clear how the law is going to work, but as new information becomes available we will let you know. In the meantime, here's a brief summary of what we do know now.

What is the Partner Notification Law?

According to this new law, if you choose to be tested for HIV and have a positive test result, two things will happen: (1) Your name will be reported to the state Department of Health. (2) The Department of Health will ask you to give them the names of your recent sexual and needle-sharing partners so that DOH staff can get in touch with them and advise them that they may have been exposed to HIV.

When does the law go into effect?

The partner notification law has been passed by the New York State legislature, but it is not yet in effect. The regulations that will govern how the law will be implemented have not yet been published, so we don't know exactly how it will work in real life. We also don't know when the law will actually be put into practice, but we expect it to be sometime in the late spring or summer of 1999. For now, the important thing is to understand what the law does and does not say, and to be prepared for it to take effect.

What DOES the law say?

It is important to understand that the new law has two separate components -- names reporting and partner notification. The first is mandatory and the second voluntary.

What is the provision on names reporting?

This section of the law is mandatory. The law requires HIV testing sites and medical practitioners to report the names of HIV-positive people to the New York State Department of Health. An individual's positive HIV status must be reported if the site or practitioner learns of it in any of three ways:

  • the individual receives a positive result on an HIV test.
  • the individual seeks medical care for an HIV-related illness (opportunistic infection, or OI).
  • the individual experiences an AIDS-defining illness.

The names-reporting provision of the law applies to all institutions and medical practitioners serving people who are HIV-positive. It also requires that these names be kept confidentially within the Department of Health, and prohibits their being shared with, for instance, insurance companies (or anyone else for that matter).

What about anonymous testing sites?

As the law is written, anonymous testing sites -- those where the name of the individual being tested is not known even to those performing the test -- will remain anonymous; there is no requirement that the site try to learn an individual's identity and report it to the state. It appears that the same is true of home testing kits and the medical labs that process them. When an individual who tested positive at an anonymous site seeks medical care under circumstances that reveal his or her serostatus, however, that individual's name will then be reported to the DOH. Even if the person avoids the medical system until the onset of AIDS, name reporting will occur at that point.

What if I tested positive before the law was passed?

Your testing site will not track you down and report your name retroactively, no matter what type of testing site you originally used. Again, however, when you seek care within the medical system, now or in the future, if your medical practitioner runs any HIV-related test or otherwise determines that you are HIV-positive or are experiencing HIV-related illness, she or he is obligated to report your name to the DOH.

What is the provision on partner notification?

This part of the law, also called "contact tracing," is voluntary on the part of the HIV-positive individual. It requires medical practitioners to ask their HIV-positive patients to give them the names of sexual and needle-sharing partners voluntarily. If they do, these partners will be contacted in person by the DOH and warned of their possible exposure. This is based upon a model of disease control that has had some success in controlling the transmission rates of sexually transmitted diseases like syphilis. When partners are contacted, they are not to be told that you are the person who identified them. The law requires that your name be kept confidential.

What if I don't want to give the names of my partners?

You are NOT REQUIRED to report the names of your partners! This part of the legislation is not mandatory; there is no penalty for refusing to divulge the names of your partners, and you are entirely within your rights to do so. What is mandatory, however, is for medical practitioners to report to the DOH the names of any "known contacts." This means that if you have listed the name of your spouse on any form, such as an insurance form, that comes into the practitioner's hands, your spouse's name will be reported to the DOH as a "known contact." Similarly, if you are a woman receiving prenatal care and you have listed the father's name on your hospital record, his name will be reported to the DOH as a "known contact."

What about domestic violence? Are there any extenuating circumstances that would keep the DOH from tracing a "known contact"?

The DOH is supposed to develop a protocol specifically for this type of situation. It is not yet clear what that protocol will contain -- especially where same-sex couples are concerned. HIV advocates and domestic violence advocates are working together to try to ensure that the regulations contain allowances for situations involving domestic violence.

Is it too late to stop this legislation?

The law was passed last June by an overwhelming margin -- 120 votes for, 30 against. The governor signed it into law in July, and the legislation was supposed to go into effect in January 1999. In the governor's preliminary budget for this year, $2 million was cut from existing AIDS programs (treatment adherence and permanency planning), while $4.7 million was allocated to a statewide partner notification program and names reporting system.

We can, however, still try to affect how the law is implemented. As Body Positive goes to press, the regulations that explain the implementation of the law have not yet been published, and until those regulations are in their final form the law cannot be applied. It is anticipated that a draft of the regulations will be published in late February. This is followed by a mandatory 45-day public-comment period. During this period we can lobby our representatives and attempt to keep the coercive aspects of the law to a minimum.

After the 45-day comment period, probably sometime during the summer, the regulations will be published in their final form. It is then that names reporting and partner notification will become a reality.

To express your opinion on the regulations when they are published, you can write, call, or e-mail your representatives directly, or you can get in touch with the New York AIDS Coalition, (212) 629-3075, or the Gay Men's Health Crisis Policy Department, (212) 367-1000, or another policy-oriented group, to find out how you can help affect how the law is implemented.

Back to the March 1999 Issue of Body Positive Magazine

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This article was provided by Body Positive. It is a part of the publication Body Positive.
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