LOS ANGELES--(AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF), the largest global AIDS organization, today criticized the ACLU of Northern California, Lambda Legal and the HIV & AIDS Legal Services Alliance for their willingness to sacrifice the health and wellbeing of low-income California HIV/AIDS patients with hypothetical scenarios of breaches of patient privacy. In a letter sent to David Maxwell-Jolly, Director of California’s Department of Health Care Services, the three legal groups accused the state—the health provider of last resort for poor Californians—of the release of “…HIV status and confidential identifying information of approximately 5,000 HIV-positive Medi-Cal recipients” to AHF, the official medical contractor to the state for the delivery of disease management services for its HIV-positive Medi-Cal population. The groups accuse California health officials of violating a 25-year-old privacy law that was enacted well before HIV became a treatable disease with the advent and widespread use of lifesaving antiretroviral treatment in 1996. The letter also included no actual privacy complaints directly from patients, but was driven solely by the groups’ activism.)--
“We care for over 22,000 HIV/AIDS patients throughout the United States, so we are of course concerned with and honor patient privacy along with HIPAA compliance”
“When privacy trumps prudent public health and the provision of lifesaving care, we’ve gone too far,” said Michael Weinstein, President of AIDS Healthcare Foundation. “It appears the ACLU and its cohorts are ready, willing and able to sacrifice the lives of thousands of vulnerable California AIDS patients on the altar of its own outdated and overblown privacy concerns. Should they prevail, it will be a hollow victory for these three agencies and a threat to the health and wellbeing of HIV and AIDS Medi-Cal patients throughout California.”
In 2007, AHF won the state’s competitive bid process and became the official medical contractor to the State of California to provide disease management services to its HIV-positive Medi-Cal population. The goal of the program, which also required approval from the Centers for Medicaid & Medicare Services (CMS), was to improve individual patient health outcomes while reducing costs to the state. AHF’s Positive Healthcare Disease Management program started operation in early 2009 and ceased operating at the end of that year as AHF found it could not obtain sufficient information to successfully contact this vulnerable, underserved population. In contrast, AHF has successfully operated a similar disease management program in Florida, Positive Healthcare Florida, for its HIV-positive Medi-Pass (Medicaid) population for over eleven years. AHF works in partnership with Florida state health officials to ensure the program’s success—vastly improved patient health outcomes and reduced costs to the state. The program currently serves over 5,000 Floridians.
“We care for over 22,000 HIV/AIDS patients throughout the United States, so we are of course concerned with and honor patient privacy along with HIPAA compliance,” said Whitney Engeran-Cordova, Senior Director of Public Health for AIDS Healthcare Foundation. “So much so, that we have also been at the forefront sponsoring legislation to achieve public health goals while protecting patients’ privacy.”
“The understandable but misguided position of these groups is undermining public health,” said Tom Myers, Chief of Public Affairs and General Counsel for AIDS Healthcare Foundation. “Privacy laws are intended to protect people, not hurt people.”
“The position of these legal groups flies in the face of the most basic best practices in the effective delivery of health care and public health and does an enormous injustice to people they claim to be championing,” added AHF’s Weinstein. “More people will be lost to care, damaging their own health as well as threatening the health of others. It’s unfortunate that the ACLU, Lambda and HALSA have put so little thought into the devastating consequences their actions may have on the lives of their fellow Californians.”
AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF), the largest global AIDS organization, currently provides medical care and services to more than 137,000 individuals in 22 countries worldwide in the US, Africa, Latin America/Caribbean, the Asia/Pacific region and Eastern Europe. www.aidshealth.org