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Study Shows HIV Discrimination in Health Care

By Cynthia Hsu, Esq. on December 02, 2011 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

This year, December 1 marked World AIDS Day, a worldwide event meant to unite individuals across the globe in the fight against the HIV virus. Americans have made strides in the fight against HIV discrimination. Yet, a new study by the Williams Institute, a national think tank at UCLA Law, seems to demonstrate that individuals living with AIDS may still face an uphill battle for health services.

The study focused on 612 dental offices in Los Angeles County, and found that 5% of dentists surveyed had a blanket policy against admitting HIV-positive individuals as patients.

The report also indicated that 55% of obstetricians, 46% of skilled nursing facilities, and 26% of plastic surgeons would refuse medical service to those living with AIDS.

Health services providers that refuse treatment to HIV-positive individuals may be violating the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Specifically, health services providers must:

  • HIV/AIDS patients must be given equal opportunity. Places of public accommodation, which can include doctors offices, dentists and hospitals, must give disabled individuals equal opportunity to use their facilities. Offices that have blanket policies refusing treatment to HIV-positive patients may be breaking the law.
  • Offices cannot treat HIV/AIDS patients differently. Doctors offices that charge HIV-positive patients a higher fee may be violating the law as well.
  • Health care providers cannot refer HIV/AIDS patients to other offices solely based on the patient's status. For example, a doctor or dentist cannot refer a patient to a different office just because the patient has AIDS. Doctors or dentists can, however, refer a patient to a different office if the patient requires treatment that is outside the scope of their medical expertise.

Medical care providers who refuse to treat HIV-positive patients on the basis that they don't have the necessary safety precautions may also be violating the ADA. This is because universally applicable safety precautions like donning a mask and gloves would safeguard against transmission of AIDS.

Officials, however, were largely pleased with the result of the Williams Institute study, reports the Huffington Post. While HIV discrimination still exists, perhaps it's gradually decreasing. Reportedly, 90% of dentists would admit patients regardless of their status. And hopefully, World AIDS Day continued to highlight the challenges that HIV-positive individuals face across the globe.

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