A group of more than 20 major HIV/AIDS service and prevention providers and advocates have united to ask the state legislature to reject a bill that purports to increase access to HIV testing, but may do more harm than good.

A bill introduced by Assemblywoman Nettie Mayersohn (D-Queens) would eliminate the requirement that health care providers get informed consent from people before they are tested for HIV, and give them critical pre-test counseling about what a positive HIV diagnosis means in terms of treatment availability, transmission prevention, and confidentiality and anti-discrimination protections.

“Though we've made great strides in how people with HIV are treated and cared for, a positive test is still a life-changing event, with consequences unlike those for any other type of medical test,” said NYCLU Executive Director Donna Lieberman. “But if this legislation passes, there is no guarantee that New Yorkers would even understand what they are being tested for.”

The Mayersohn bill – AB 4813 – is among several pieces of pending legislation that seek to increase the numbers of New Yorkers who are tested for HIV. Experts and advocates disagree about the best way to accomplish that goal, but advocates have united to say that Mayersohn's bill is not the way to do it.

“We all want to increase the number of New Yorkers who know their HIV status,” said NYCLU attorney Corinne Carey. “But this can be accomplished in a manner that respects a patient's right to consent to medical treatment. Simply requiring health care providers to offer HIV testing — which this bill does not do — would dramatically increase the number of people who get tested.”

The coalition has released a statement of principles that supports expanding the availability of voluntary HIV testing while retaining legal guarantees that patients are told what they are being tested for, that early diagnosis and medical intervention can improve treatment outcomes, that anonymous testing is available, and that confidentiality and anti-discrimination protections are available for those who test positive.

Signatories to the statement of principles include: Safe Horizon; Hispanic AIDS Forum; New York AIDS Coalition; Centro Civico of Amsterdam, Inc.; Housing Works; New York Civil Liberties Union; Bronx AIDS Services; Community Healthcare Network; Institute for Family Health; Betances Health Center; Legal Action Center; HIV Law Project; Brooklyn United Community Coalition; Center for HIV Law and Policy; AIDS Council of Northeastern New York; AIDS Community Research Initiative of America (ACRIA); Citiwide Harm Reduction; Lambda Legal; St. Ann's Corner of Harm Reduction; Community HIV/AIDS mobilization Project (CHAMP); Washington Heights Corner Project; and Community Health Action.