Wednesday, September 26, 2018
Politics

Under congressional pressure, Florida officials elaborate on drop in HIV cases

After weeks of not answering questions on controversial revisions to the state HIV count, the Florida Department of Health has released more detailed information on the state's calculations.

In a list of frequently asked questions posted Friday to the Department of Health's website, officials said they send information about all new HIV cases to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC then identifies cases that may have been counted in more than one state and asks those health departments to decide where the case was first diagnosed.

Florida health officials said they have had thousands more potential duplicates to review because a larger share of laboratories are now reporting results electronically. The officials also said the CDC had "expanded the criteria for identifying potential duplicate cases."

The explanation comes as the Department of Health faces criticism for altering the number of new HIV cases diagnosed in 2014 from 6,147 to 4,613. The revisions were the largest made in recent history and came as then-state Surgeon General John Armstrong was under fire for a spike in HIV rates.

In March, a Tampa Bay Times analysis found the Department of Health had not only changed the number of new cases in 2014, but also had made sizable revisions to the data dating back a decade. For several weeks, the department declined to provide detailed information about how cases had been reclassified or assigned to other states.

In its latest release, state health officials said many of the cases identified as duplicates in Florida ended up on the New York, California and Georgia rolls.

It's unclear whether the information will satisfy 11 members of Congress from Florida who last week asked Republican Gov. Rick Scott for a thorough breakdown of the revised data, expressing concerns about "statistical integrity."

U.S. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, a Miami Republican, thanked Scott on Twitter for releasing the information.

But U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, a Tampa Democrat who has also asked federal officials to investigate, said she had lingering questions. She wanted more details on how the state removed duplicate cases.

"We've really got to understand county by county what is happening," Castor said. "Otherwise, the questions of data manipulation will continue to haunt them."

Contact Kathleen McGrory at [email protected] or (727) 893-8330. Follow @kmcgrory.

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