New legislation removes barrier to routine HIV testing in Washington

On March 21, Washington State removed a barrier to routine HIV screening as Gov. Jay Inslee signed Senate Bill 6580 into law, removing exceptional consent for HIV testing.

Governor Inslee signs SB6580 into law.

Thirty years ago, HIV was a terrifying new disease that was swiftly destroying the health and lives of those it infected. Fear, misinformation, and stigma surrounded the condition. At times, people were tested for HIV without their permission or knowledge, test results were shared without consent, and if infected, people lost jobs, homes, friends, and family.

To protect people, many states, including Washington, passed laws requiring specific exceptional consent before people could be tested for HIV.

Advances in the testing, treatment, and prevention of HIV have since transformed the disease into a condition managed in ways similar to other chronic health concerns. These advances in care and treatment of HIV — and new laws protecting health information — have decreased the need for exceptional consent laws.

The new law does not do away with consent for HIV testing, but it removes the extra consent that was required, making the level of consent the same as it is for other serious diseases.

Medical systems and health care providers will now be able to routinely test for HIV without having to create extra documentation. Removing barriers to HIV testing allows more people to get tested, know their HIV status, and, if infected, get the treatment and care they need.

In addition to removing testing barriers, the new law may reduce lingering stigma of HIV by approaching HIV in the same way as other serious health conditions. Reducing stigma may increase people’s willingness to get tested for HIV, a vital part of ending AIDS in Washington.

Implementing routine HIV screening in emergency rooms and urgent care facilities will also help people who get health care in these systems.

“People who experience poverty, homelessness, those affected by the harms of drug use and many people of color are often on the fringes of the healthcare system. They may disproportionately use emergency and urgent care systems. Routine HIV testing can help health care providers find and link patients to life saving treatment and health care”- Claudia Catastini, Director of the Office of Infectious Disease, Washington State Department of Health

The End AIDS Washington initiative was launched as a result of Inslee’s public commitment to reduce the rate of new HIV diagnoses by 50 percent by 2020 and to reduce disparities in health outcomes for people living with HIV. Watch the video below to learn more.

This article was first published on the Washington State Department of Health’s Public Health Connection blog.