Author Archives: Maya Frazier

FDA “Updates” Its Policy on Blood Donations from Gay and Bi-Sexual Men Engaging in Same-Sex Intercourse

Since 1983, FDA has banned men from donating blood for life if they have had sex with another man, even just once, at any point from 1977 and on, Despite lacking scientific significance, the lifetime ban has remained in effect until this past December. However, organizations like the Red Cross have been pushing for the ban to be revisited since 2006. On December 23, 2014, the FDA announced that it would alter the 31-year old national policy banning males who engage in same sex intercourse from donating blood. The new proposed policy would now allow males who are gay or bi-sexual to donate blood so long as the potential donor has abstained from same-sex intercourse for at least 12 months.

Politicians, gay rights activists, and public health officials have spoken out against FDA’s new policy and some are calling the ban “harmful and offensive.” According to Gay Men’s Health Crisis (GMHC), requiring gay and bi-sexual men to abstain from having sex with other men for a year ”is [still] a de facto lifetime ban.” GMHC went on to note that heterosexual men are not required to remain celibate for a year and therefore, the “step forward” that FDA is attempting to make is still overt discrimination.

Senator Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisc.), who led the charge for the government to end the lifetime ban, noted that although the new proposal was a step in the right direction, she “remain[s] concerned that [the new policy] does not achieve our goal of putting in place a policy that is based on sound science.” Baldwin noted, “[t]he Administration must continue to work toward implementing blood donation policies based on individual risk factors instead of singling out one group of people and turning away healthy, willing donors, even when we face serious blood shortages.”

Despite receiving criticism and concerns, the FDA’s new proposed policy garnered support as well. Steven W. Thrasher, for NPR’s Code Switch, a gay male who has written extensively about FDA’s lifetime blood ban, offered his support for the recently updated policy. Throughout Thrasher’s piece, he explained the technicalities and reasoning behind the ban, from his perspective, noting that because “the act of a man having sex with another man imposes a risk on his potential blood donation on the same level as taking IV drugs, having been incarcerated, or having had sex with someone who is an IV drug user or has been incarcerated, Thrasher is “okay” with the update on the ban.

Thrasher explained that there is a difference between “shaming gay men” and recognizing that the practice of homosexual male sex does have actual risks proven by various demographics. Thrasher cites statistics from the CDC, noting “the overall gay male population of the US is only 2%, according to the CDC, this group “accounted for three-fourths of all estimated new HIV infections annually from 2008 to 2010.” Thrasher said, “A one-year ban, however, would be based on the risk assessments of a practice — the practice of a man having sex with another man — and not unscientifically shaming gay men. This might sound like a fine difference. But it’s an important one.”

Others believe that the government should adopt the approach followed in Italy and Spain, where gay or bi-sexual men, engaging in sex with other men are allowed to donate blood so long as the donor is in a monogamous relationship and whose blood tests are safe. The “individualized risk assessment” approach appears to be successful in Italy, and according to a 2013 study, there is “no evidence of a significant impact on the human immunodeficiency virus epidemic in Italy.”

Whether you view the updated policy as a baby-step, a leap forward, or as no change at all, FDA’s recent announcement has undoubtedly reignited the conversation about blood donations polices and the still stigmatized health concerns of gay and bi-sexual men.

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The push for IT advancements in health related fields in the wake of technological breaches

For over twenty-five years, health related industries have increased the use of technology hoping to make healthcare more accessible, affordable, and efficient. As early as the 1990s, medical providers have slowly migrated to electronic health records (EHRs) from traditional paper record keeping systems. With the adoption of legislation like the HITECH Act, HIPAA, and the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010, the Federal government has supported the trend of advancing technological innovations in the realm of the health care.

With increased reliance on EHRs, the issue of patient privacy is more prevalent. Medical providers must ensure, more than ever, that electronic record keeping will not jeopardize patient privacy. Providers bear the same burden in regard to online platforms, which provide virtual medical services to consumers. Especially, in the wake of recent technological breaches, how can healthcare providers ensure that the steady trend of IT innovations in health related industries does not experience similar issues with security and breaches occurring as of late?

In a recent article in the healthcare section of InformationWeek, Alison Diana outlined several pros and cons of technological advances in healthcare over the past twenty-five years. Making the top of the ‘cons’ lists was privacy. Diana noted that although medical providers take numerous precautions and implement safety measures to prevent breaches, there are also factors that are more difficult to control that can lead to leaks. Diana specifically noted that human error and criminal activity are two factors that often contribute to privacy mishaps.

Do the benefits outweigh the downfalls?

The Office of the National Coordinator for Healthcare IT, an office within HHS, believes that healthcare IT has its benefits despite its shortcomings. Proper implementation of healthcare IT programs can lead to decreased healthcare costs, increased access to healthcare, provide various forums for patients to have access to personal medical records, and create a simplified efficient system for recording sharing amongst healthcare providers. However, some legislators feel that more can be done to ensure that privacy is in fact protected.

On September 18, 2014, Rep. Robert Hurt, R-Va. and Rep. John Barrow, D-Ga., introduced a bi-partisan bill in the House, proposing additional privacy rights for potential consumers of insurance plans pursuant to the ACA. The bill would allow individuals who do not opt-in to the Federal healthcare program to remove any personal information from the site that they provided in the application process. Currently that option is not available to potential consumers. After, a potential consumer provides his or her personal medical information on healthcare.gov, it cannot be removed even if that individual does not decide to purchase a plan. Rep. Hurt explained to Information Security Media Outlet that he was prompted to introduce the bill after a constituent expressed concern with his inability to remove his profile from Healthcare.org, which contained a myriad of personal information and health history, after deciding not to purchase healthcare from the site. Rep. Hurt explained that he had not received an explanation about the policy of keeping consumer information after contacting the Agency several times to inquire why the data was kept if insurance was not purchased. Rep. Hurt also attributes studies from the Government Accountability Office highlighting breaches to healthcare.gov as motivation to create the bill.

The bill will offer all consumers, potential and realized, increased security when using healthcare.gov, a concern that is prevalent with consumers. Having the ability to remove highly private, personal medical information from a government controlled website can help decrease the feeling that “big brother” is watching. As of yet, HHS has not taken any steps to address the concerns Rep. Hurt outlines in his bill. However, addressing the concerns raised in the bill could be beneficial for HHS to lure individuals in who may be on the fence about healthcare.gov.

 

 

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