Arizona bills to improve HIV testing access and create confidential health care workforce wellness programs pass Senate HHS Committee

Two key health bills were recently heard in the Senate Health and Human Services Committee, one concerning consent for HIV-related tests and the other concerning wellness programs for health care professionals. Both bills passed unanimously and moved onto the Senate Rules Committee.

 

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House Bill 2433, a bipartisan bill sponsored by Rep. Amish Shah (D–Phoenix), Cesar Chavez (D–Phoenix), Jennifer Longdon (D–Phoenix), and Justin Wilmeth (R–Phoenix), would repeal a duplicate statute requiring health care providers to provide informed consent information to patients prior to ordering any HIV-related test. 

Shah says this redundant statute dates back 30 years ago, when there was more stigma surrounding HIV.

“Thirty years later, times have changed,” he emphasized. “What we’d really like to do is be able to do these tests without having to do redundant paperwork … We want to be able to screen people easier and faster and not have to put a duplicate consent in front of every single person.”

Shah said an easier and more efficient screening process for this disease would allow more positive cases to be caught, and would in turn prevent significant medical costs to the government. 

Jeff Taylor, representing Aunt Rita’s Foundation, spoke in favor of the bill, discussing how the most at-risk population is now IV drug users. He says duplicate consent creates a barrier to testing, and that improving access to testing would lead people toward accessing treatment as well. 

“A lot of the population that’s in fear of HIV don’t know that if you’re identified [as HIV-positive], you’re put on a rapid start medication treatment, and within a few months, you are undetectable which means you cannot pass it to other people,” he said. “This is good public policy that creates a safer community and will save a ton of money in the future, and also hopefully move people on into the treatment realm where they need to be.”

The bill passed in a 7-0 vote and moved on to the Senate Rules Committee.

HB 2429, a bipartisan bill sponsored by Shah and Rep. Joanne Osborne (R–Goodyear), would allow any statewide nonprofit association that primarily represents licensed medical or osteopathic physicians to establish a physician wellness program. The bill also ensures that physician participation in the program is confidential, unless outlined criteria are met. 

These physician wellness programs would include evaluation and counseling, including substance abuse counseling or other modalities to address issues related to career fatigue or general wellness. The bill excludes providing services that are intended to monitor for impairment, however.

An amendment authored by Sen. Nancy Barto (R–Phoenix), which has been accepted by the bill sponsors, expands the physician wellness program to a health professional wellness program, including nurses.

“What we have noticed throughout the last couple years is an incredible amount of burnout from our medical providers,” Shah said. “We wanted to think about a way to support people so that they would stay in the profession and get their mental health concerns addressed.”

Shah added that they had modeled the bill after other states that have successfully created wellness programs within professional organizations that would help support people in a peer-to-peer way.

“It is a really good way to do it because people feel comfortable around those very peers talking about these kinds of things and addressing issues that they might have,” he said.

He also said that confidentiality was an essential aspect of the bill, as participation in the program might carry a stigma.

Amanda Rusing, representing the Arizona Medical Association, said that taking measures to destigmatize mental health for these health care professionals would encourage them to seek necessary help.

“Tragically, a lot [of health care professionals] are continuing to suffer in silence out of fear of the professional stigma of seeking help,” she said. “The bill allows for the needed protections that will encourage them to seek help when it is needed.”

The bill passed in a 7-0 vote.