To Tell the Truth: HIV Disclosure Laws

Written by Kristeen Cherney | Published on March 14, 2014
Medically Reviewed by George Krucik, MD, MBA on March 14, 2014

Tell the Truth: HIV Disclosure Laws

Living with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) is an ongoing battle. Working with your doctor is essential to your overall wellbeing. It also helps prevent the infection’s progression to acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS).

Even though you’ll need others’ help, having HIV is largely your personal business. There are laws set in place to help protect you from being discriminated against because you have the virus. But, other laws require you to disclose your HIV status in order to prevent spreading the virus to others.

Your Employer

There is absolutely no reason you have to disclose information about HIV to your employer. Many patients prefer to keep their health information private, but others fear possible discrimination. The choice is up to you.

An employer cannot legally cut your hours, demote your position, or fire you over an HIV diagnosis. The Federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission protects your ability to work.

If you need to report a violation but want to protect your identity, someone else can do it for you.

Your Health Insurance

Between medications and physician visits, HIV care can become quite expensive. Health insurance is not only a great asset to have, it’s required as part of the Affordable Care Act.

It’s illegal to deny anyone insurance coverage for HIV expenses. You cannot be denied health insurance for a preexisting condition, so you don’t have to call your health insurance provider to disclose an HIV diagnosis.

Disability Rights

HIV can mean disability if you’re no longer able to work. In order to qualify for possible disability benefits, you have to disclose information about your condition to the Social Security Administration (SSA). The agency will need to verify your health status with doctors to prevent fraud.

But the information you provide is not shared outside of the agency reviewing your case. In addition to SSA disability, there is also government assistance available through the Ryan White Comprehensive AIDS Emergency (CARE) Act. But, you have to prove your condition to gain CARE benefits.

Sexual Partners

Being sexually active with HIV means there is a serious risk for passing the infection. Chances are higher if you don’t use condoms. Oral contraceptives and vaginal sponges don’t offer the same type of protection. Morally, it’s your duty to discuss your health with your partner.

Your state may also have partner-notification laws set in place. If you know you have HIV and pass an infection to a partner, you could face a lawsuit from the infected person. While it’s a difficult discussion, it’s definitely one worth having.

Third-Party Laws

The stigma surrounding HIV has decreased as the public has become more aware of how the virus spreads. We know that it’s transmitted through blood and body fluids, and not through touching. You aren’t legally obligated to tell friends or strangers about your condition, but health professionals may have to “third-party members.”

Third-party laws are used when a health professional recognizes a risk of exposure from one person to another. It’s ultimately their “duty to warn” someone else—for example, a spouse who has not been told.

Criminal Exposure Laws and HIV

The CARE Act goes beyond protecting people infected with HIV. The act also gives states the right to prosecute anyone who knowingly and intentionally spreads their infection to others. Commonly called criminal exposure laws, these rules help to protect public health. As of July 2013, 33 states had criminal exposure laws.

These laws don’t require you to make your personal health information public. But if you have HIV, you should know that you might be held accountable if you pass the virus to others out of negligence. Criminal exposure laws for HIV often go hand-in-hand with third-party laws.

Honesty Based on Policy

Your health status is personal. Know your rights and never let anyone con you into unnecessarily handing over your medical information without just cause.

You should also know that all new HIV cases are reported to individual state health departments, but any personal information is left out for the sake of confidentiality. This process is done to track HIV epidemics only.

Telling others about your condition is largely up to you, as long as no one else is in danger of infection.

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