Michigan HIV Activists Angered by No-Consent Testing Legislation

Legislation pending in Michigan sparks worries about health insurers denying coverage to those infected and tested without their knowledge.

Activists with the group Michigan POZ Action
are organizing a campaign to get state lawmakers to stop legislation
that will remove a law that requires persons being tested for HIV do so
with informed consent.

Under current law, anyone seeking an HIV antibody test must sign a
document acknowledging they have consented to the test. But under revisions proposed in the House and the Senate, any doctor would be able to order an HIV test for a patient without permission, consultation or counseling.

The legislation has sparked concerns about no-consent testing causing patients to lose their health insurance.

Kendra Kleber who previously practiced law focused on HIV and government benefits, told Michigan Messenger earlier this year:

The whole idea of anonymous testing is that you can
control when you are tested and what happens to your results.
Everything about this bill, except that little section [on anonymous
testing], says you have no control over when you are tested and what
happens to your results. You have no control. … But the fact of the
matter is that if you went to your normal doctor and had a physical
last week and even if you doctor didn’t say anything to you about HIV,
he could have tested you and so your results could already be in the
record. Which means they are already knowable to an insurance company.

Kleber, who has been appointed to an administrative law judge
position in Cleveland, said she found the legislation to be “very,
very, very problematic.”

Activists infected with HIV and their advocates are up in arms.

“Being tested doesn’t do anything to prevent anything,” said Mark
Peterson, an HIV activist based in Detroit. “This sort of puts a wedge
between doctor and patient when it comes to an important health

The legislation was proposed in March by State Rep. Roy Schmidt, a Grand Rapids Democrat. He told Michigan Messenger in April the bill was created at the request of Spectrum Health,
a large health care provider in West Michigan. The system’s spokesman
Bruce Rossman confirmed Spectrum had requested the law, noting that
Spectrum physicians had indicated the current law created a barrier.

He also noted that Spectrum had not implemented a policy mandating HIV testing for patients over 16, as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recommended.

“We have not [implemented the CDC guidelines] under the current law
because, unfortunately, a lot of our current physicians feel that it
[informed consent] is a hurdle,” he said.

An official with the Michigan Department of Community Health told Michigan Messenger the agency was opposed to no-consent testing.

“We feel [the CDC recommendations] can be implemented successfully
in the state without changing the law,” said Debra Szwedja, acting
director of the MDCH’s Division of Health, Wellness and Disease Control.

The Senate Health Policy Committee will take up the legislation
Wednesday at a 2:30 p.m. hearing in Lansing, and Michigan POZ Action
members plan to organize a grassroots lobbying campaign to oppose the

“This is about a convenience for doctors versus the ability of
patients to have an informed conversation,” said Peterson. “The
patient’s informed consent outweighs the convenience issue for