Students Help Pass HIV Drug Law for Youth

Two students in the Solomon Center for Health Law and Policy's Medical-Legal Partnership (MLP), Hannah Hussey ’20 and Owen Monkemeier ’19, spent the spring semester successfully advocating for the passage of a new Connecticut law making HIV-preventing drugs available to some of the state’s most vulnerable youth. Hussey and Monkemeier participated in the pediatric MLP, a collaboration between the Center for Children’s Advocacy and Yale New Haven Hospital.

The MLP worked on Connecticut House Bill 6540, An Act Concerning the Prevention of HIV, that allows minors to consent to pre-exposure prophylaxis, or PrEP, without notification of the parent or guardian. PrEP is an oral pill that is highly effective in preventing HIV infection. The Bill passed in the House in April and in the Senate on the final day of the 2019 Connecticut legislative session in June. It was signed into law by Governor Lamont on July 1.

The Food and Drug Administration approved the use of PrEP by minors in May 2018, but prior to the law change, minors in Connecticut could not obtain the preventative treatment without parental consent. This presented a major barrier for at-risk youth, especially those who felt unsafe discussing their sexuality with their parents. In the past three years, approximately 100 youth and young adults in Connecticut have been diagnosed with HIV each year without the preventative treatment according to Dr. Kristyn Wagner, director of HIV and infectious disease at Fair Haven Community Health Care and one of the leading physician advocates for the bill.

Under the supervision of MLP attorney Alice Rosenthal of the Center for Children’s Advocacy, Hussey and Monkemeier drafted written testimony for the public hearings, researched potential amendments to the bill, initiated grass roots organizing to harness support for the bill, created a social media campaign for supporters to utilize for publicity, and assisted in drafting an op-ed with Wagner that was published in the Hartford Courant.

“Access to HIV prevention should never depend on whether a young person has a parent with whom they can safely discuss issues of sexual health and identity,” said Hussey. “As Medical-Legal Partnership students, we frequently discuss interdisciplinary approaches to meeting community health needs. It was a privilege to put this concept into practice by joining the team of providers, advocates, attorneys, and youth who made this step possible in the fight against HIV.”

Under Rosenthal’s supervision, law students work alongside physicians in the pediatric department at Yale New Haven Children’s Hospital to address patient-specific and systemic issues related to childhood poverty that impact children’s health. Students work on legal matters related to housing, education, utilities, teen legal rights, disability rights, and public benefits, as well as issues uniquely impacting transgender youth.

“The child advocacy MLP is able to assist over 300 individual children each year and also create systemic, statewide change due to the dedication and hard work of our Yale Law School student interns. Their passion and commitment to children and the law is invigorating,” said Rosenthal. “Hannah and Owen exemplified this. Their efforts were extremely effective and instrumental in ensuring that vulnerable youth in Connecticut have access to life-saving preventative medication.”

Through partnerships with other community organizations and providers, the Solomon Center for Health Law and Policy at Yale Law School also oversees four other Medical-Legal Partnerships: the Transitions MLP, addressing the medical and civil legal needs of individuals returning home from prison; the Palliative Care MLP, assisting patients at the Smilow Cancer Hospital at Yale New Haven Hospital with end-of-life legal needs; the Veterans MLP, providing direct client services to veterans receiving care at VA’s Errera Community Center; and the Haven MLP, providing legal services to uninsured patients including many undocumented immigrants, at the free medical clinic run by Yale Medical School.