Whatever sense it made when medical confidentiality rules were weak, a state law requiring written consent for an HIV test is an obstacle to testing now, and repealing that law ought to be a simple matter.
Yet the Legislature is now considering a bill that, while purporting to fix the problem, would merely replace one speed bump with another. The measure would allow patients to give verbal consent, which doctors would have to document in a patient’s chart - documentation that isn’t required for any other test that doctors might order. Making matters worse, the bill also contains a provision that would require a patient’s written consent before any disclosure of HIV-related medical information. In practice, this measure would complicate communications between, for instance, an HIV-positive patient’s primary-care doctor and outside specialists.
Federal health officials recommended five years ago that states update their laws to make HIV testing a routine part of health treatment. To that end, the Legislature should simply eliminate the written-consent requirement - period. And if lawmakers can’t bring themselves to do only that, they should spike the current bill and do nothing at all.