The state Assembly unanimously agreed Thursday to replace California’s flawed system for tracking HIV infections, a move that would bring the state into the mainstream nationally and preserve millions of federal dollars for treatment and services that had been threatened.
The 67-0 Assembly vote virtually guarantees the change from an HIV tracking system based on alphanumeric codes to one based on patient names. The Senate has already passed the bill and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s administration has voiced its support.
The legislation must return to the Senate for approval of technical amendments, but proponents say it could become law within weeks.
The overwhelming support for the bill marks a turnaround in a state that until a few months ago was seriously divided on whether reporting the names of HIV-positive patients would compromise patient privacy and deter testing.
The shift came because the federal government is poised to cut funding for states that do not have what it considers a reliable HIV-tracking system as early as this fall. That could mean the loss of more than $50 million for the state unless it changes its method of reporting.
“It is essential that we implement a names-based reporting system for HIV cases immediately,” said state Sen. Nell Soto (D-Pomona), the bill’s sponsor, in a statement Thursday.
The code system, which has been in place since July 2002, has been widely characterized as a costly bureaucratic mess, with doctors’ offices and laboratories reporting incomplete or erroneous information to local health departments. In some cases, the offices and labs weren’t reporting at all. In turn, the local agencies have been unable to follow up on cases and provide accurate information to the state.
As a result, state officials say that they have not been able to accurately monitor HIV’s spread, which is crucial to deciding where to allocate prevention and treatment money.
The bill would give the Schwarzenegger administration up to a year to draft rules for the new system. But unless Congress or federal regulators step in, California could still lose money because beginning this fall, federal funding decisions are expected to be based in part on each state’s HIV cases.
The legislation also increases penalties for negligent and malicious disclosure of an HIV test result.
Proponents of the name system have maintained that California should monitor HIV cases as it does every other reportable disease, in a confidential database of names. Full-blown AIDS, which can take a decade or more to develop after HIV infection, has long been tracked by name.
California is one of only a handful of states to track HIV using codes.