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White House Opposes U.S. Law on AIDS Privacy, Bias : Primary Role Up to States, Bowen Declares

September 21, 1987|Associated Press

WASHINGTON — The Reagan Administration said today it opposes proposed federal legislation to protect the rights of those infected with the AIDS virus, saying it is the role of states rather than the federal government to provide confidentiality and prevent discrimination against such individuals.

Health and Human Services Secretary Otis R. Bowen, in testimony before a House subcommittee, said the states are working on the confidentiality problem and should also have the primary role in determining whether additional protection is needed to prevent discrimination.

Bowen also said he supports expanded AIDS testing, as called for in the bill, but opposes the $400 million authorized by the measure to pay for it.

$90 Million Requested

He said the Administration has requested more than $90 million for AIDS testing and counseling in fiscal 1988, and states are contributing funds of their own.

"It is not clear at this time that such substantial funding beyond that is needed," Bowen said in his testimony for the House Energy and Commerce subcommittee on health.

Bowen contended the anti-discrimination section of the bill, sponsored by subcommittee chairman Henry A. Waxman (D-Los Angeles), "would create a burdensome new federal administrative enforcement bureaucracy which is not used to protect the rights of persons with any other disease or handicap."

He said HHS is reviewing its own programs to see how current law can be used to prevent discrimination against AIDS victims and noted that the Supreme Court recently ruled that the law protecting handicapped citizens against discrimination may be applied to AIDS victims as well.

More Information Wanted

Bowen said he would not necessarily oppose all new legislation on the discrimination issue but added, "At this time I believe it is preferable to defer action on specific proposals for new substantive rights or new enforcement procedures until we have the information needed to make a more informed decision."

The secretary made a similar argument against the confidentiality provisions of the Waxman bill, which has been introduced in the Senate and has the support of most major medical groups in the country.

White House spokesman Marlin Fitzwater, asked about the Administration's stand on the Waxman bill, said, "We oppose discrimination . . . but we do believe the states probably have preemptive responsibility in this area."

Bowen maintains that a federal law guaranteeing the confidentiality of AIDS tests results is not needed, but acknowledges people may elect not to be tested for fear the results would be disclosed.

However, he said, "Most states already have statutes pertaining to the confidentiality of public health information," and some are rewriting their laws to deal specifically with AIDS.

Waxman criticized the Administration's decision.

"We leave many decisions of public policy to the states, but this is an epidemic that requires national leadership," he said.

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