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Mayersohn bill expands HIV testing access for New Yorkers

Gov. David Paterson, whose state has the highest number of AIDS cases in the United States, is considering a measure to increase HIV testing and access to the test among New Yorkers.

A bill shepherded by Assemblywoman Nettie Mayersohn (D-Flushing) as a key sponsor awaited Paterson’s signature Monday afternoon, after passing the state Senate and Assembly near the end of the legislative session.

Mayersohn, who calls HIV prevention the “cornerstone” of her legislative agenda, said the bill would make needed improvements in the ways HIV and AIDS tests are administered across the state.

Unique privacy concerns and barriers associated with the long-misunderstood epidemic have been addressed at last, she said, allowing for opportunities to streamline the process for being tested in the state.

“People are more regularly going to be tested. That’s always been my goal: to ´╗┐make sure as many people as possible are tested so that people are aware of their HIV status,” she said. “There are too many people who have HIV and don’t know it, and we want to put an end to the obstacles that are in the way to get tested.”

The law would mandate that physicians offer their patients an HIV test and allow authorization for HIV-related testing to be part of a signed general consent to medical care, or documented oral consent in the case of a rapid HIV test. It would remove the need for a separate written consent, a known barrier to testing.

“By removing these obstacles, increased HIV testing will result in more infected individuals being diagnosed earlier. These patients will require fewer hospitalizations, experience a better quality of life, transmit HIV to fewer, if any, additional people and lower the costs to our health-care system overall,” she said.

Mayersohn recently sent Paterson a letter urging him to sign´╗┐ the law, which she said has the ability to save lives and prevent HIV-positive individuals from transmitting the virus to others. Anyone who is diagnosed with HIV or AIDS during the testing would receive information and counseling about what it means to test positive.

“The Legislature has now taken the first step of making HIV and AIDS testing more a part of routine medical care,” she said. “I urge the governor to sign this legislation into law so that we can get more New Yorkers tested and into care.”

Nearly 6,000 new HIV cases are reported statewide every year, she said, and more than 20,000 New Yorkers are estimated to be unaware they have the virus. Increased testing is one of the most effective means of tackling the HIV and AIDS epidemic.

“We’re now going to treat HIV like any other communicable disease, and that’s the point we want to get to,” she said.

Reach reporter Connor Adams Sheets by e-mail at csheets@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4538.

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