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Health Freedom Watch
(Email newsletter published by the Institute for Health Freedom)
October 2006

Contents:


How to Ensure Americans Are Informed of Their Right to Reject Routine HIV Screening

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently recommended making HIV testing a routine part of medical care for adolescents and adults.  The new guidelines call for HIV screening of all patients aged 13 to 64 and all pregnant women—not just those at high risk—in all health-care settings.  CDC previously recommended screening only for people at high risk and in settings with an HIV prevalence above 1 percent.  “The [new] recommendation, if fully implemented, could mean testing for 100 to 200 million Americans, said Ron Spair, chief financial officer of Pennsylvania-based OraSure Technologies, one of three companies that sell rapid-result HIV tests in the United States,” the Associated Press reported.

CDC’s revised recommendations stress that HIV screening should be voluntary. However, unless the ethic of written, informed consent is upheld in all health-care settings, there are no assurances that patients will be fully aware of their right to reject the screening.  Citizens and state and federal policymakers should carefully monitor HIV and other medical-diagnostic laws and policies to ensure that written, informed consent is obtained from individuals before any medical testing is performed.

The CDC’s report “Revised Recommendations for HIV Testing of Adults, Adolescents, and Pregnant Women in Health-Care Settings” stresses that “Patients should be informed orally or in writing that HIV testing will be performed unless they decline (opt-out screening). [Emphasis added.] Oral or written information should include an explanation of HIV infection and the meanings of positive and negative test results, and the patient should be offered an opportunity to ask questions and to decline testing. With such notification, consent for HIV screening should be incorporated into the patient’s general informed consent for medical care on the same basis as are other screening or diagnostic tests; a separate consent form for HIV testing is not recommended…. If a patient declines an HIV test, this decision should be documented in the medical record.”

The recommendation that patients can be informed orally increases the likelihood that overworked health-care providers could neglect to fully inform all patients that they are being tested for HIV.  That is why written, informed consent should be obtained from all patients, including pregnant women, explaining clearly that 1) HIV testing is recommended as a routine medical test and 2) individuals are free to decline without penalty.  This is especially important for patients who lack a full understanding of their legal rights regarding health-care matters.

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AMA Adopts Mandatory Insurance Requirement

At its 2006 annual meeting, the American Medical Association (AMA) voted to support a “requirement” for Americans to obtain health insurance, using tax laws to enforce the mandate. David McKalip, M.D., who attended the meeting in June, notes that support for the insurance mandate was overwhelming.  His comments on the meeting were published in the fall issue of the Journal of American Physicians and Surgeons.

The AMA reported it “voted to support a requirement that individuals and families earning greater than 500 percent of the federal poverty level obtain, at a minimum, coverage for catastrophic health care and evidence-based preventive health care, using the tax structure to achieve compliance. [Emphasis added.] Upon implementation of a system of refundable tax credits or other subsidies to obtain health care coverage, this requirement would apply to individuals and families earning less than 500 percent of the federal poverty level.”

The organization also “resolved that comprehensive health system reform, which achieves access to quality health care for all Americans while improving the physician practice environment, be of the highest priority for our AMA….”

Dr. McKalip said he hoped the AMA would wait and see how “the great social experiment” (mandatory medical-insurance law) in Massachusetts plays out before embracing mandatory insurance.  Other physician organizations and patient groups still have the opportunity to encourage a wait-and-see policy before endorsing the requirement in other states.

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Universal Health-Care Roundup: Two States Pass, Seven States Abandon Universal Health-Care Bills in 2006

After universal health-care proposals in 1993-94 failed at the federal level, there has been a significant shift toward “incremental” reforms at the state level.  The National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) is tracking this activity.  The following summary was drawn from NCSL’s report “2006 Bills on Universal Health Care Coverage: Legislatures Fill in the Gaps”:

The first state to enact universal access to health care was Maine, which passed the Dirigo Health Reform Act in 2003, an attempt through various reforms to provide state residents health care by 2009.  Next Illinois passed the All Kids Health Insurance Program in 2005, expanding coverage to all children under 18. 

In 2006 Massachusetts and Vermont passed legislation to expand coverage to all state residents.  The Massachusetts plan combines a number of strategies, including an individual mandate for health insurance.  The Vermont plan provides comprehensive coverage for uninsured state residents.

All told, ten states considered universal health care bills this year, but in seven states the measures failed one way or another (and a bill is still pending in one state):

  • California (S.B. 840 passed the assembly, but was vetoed by the governor in September.)
  • Connecticut (S.B. 482 did not pass out of committee during regular session.)
  • Florida (FL S.B. 310 did not pass out of committee during regular session.)
  • Hawaii (H.B. 3128 and S.B. 2436 did not pass out of committee during regular session; H.B. 3116 passed the legislature in May, but was vetoed by the governor in July.)
  • Missouri (S.B. 777 and H.B. 2123 did not pass out of committee during regular session.)
  • New Hampshire (L.S.R. 2257 died.)
  • New York (A.B. 4129 pending in committee.)
  • Wisconsin (S.B. 698 did not pass out of committee; however another bill, A.B. 1140, is expected to be introduced in January 2007.)

Even though a majority of legislatures failed to pass universal health insurance laws in 2006, supporters continue to press on.  Universal health care will continue to be a critical issue to monitor in 2007.     

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Health Freedom Watch is a monthly email newsletter published by the Institute for Health Freedom (IHF), a national nonprofit, educational organization whose mission is to bring the issues of personal health freedom to the forefront of the American health-policy debate. IHF monitors and reports on national policies that affect citizens' freedom to choose their health-care treatments and providers, and to maintain their health privacy--including genetic privacy. IHF is not affiliated with any other organization.

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