Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, expects to be a key negotiator about who must legally be told when someone tests positive for AIDS - such as the spouse, day care workers, morticians or nobody.
He told national health reporters in a telephone press conference Friday that "all sides come to me to see if we can bring both sides together" on that issuein Congress.Hatch is the ranking minority member of the Senate Labor and Human Resources Committee, which oversees health bills. He and the committee's chairman, Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., are the key men who usually hammer out compromises on healthmatters. Liberals such as Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., want nearly complete confidentiality ensured for people with AIDS to encourage them to seek treatment.
Meanwhile, conservatives such as Sen. Jesse Helms, R-N.C., feel positive AIDStests should be reported to anyone who might be put at risk by the AIDS victim. Conflicts between such groups almost scuttled AIDS legislation to fund research and health care that passed earlier this month. It passed after provisions aboutconfidentiality were deleted. Hatch said the issue will resurface.
Hatch pledged to find a fair solution. "Every person in America - including homosexuals - have rights that need to be protected." While he said most senatorsagree with that principle, they have vast differences on where to draw lines. Healso vowed to work on other AIDS victims' rights matters, such as ensuring they receive medical care and helping them to receive health care at home - which he feels could save hundreds of millions of dollars.
Hatch said the AIDS confidentiality controversy, is essentially also turning into a states' rights issue because proposed legislation by Waxman and others toensure AIDS victims' confidentiality was written so it would nullify any existing state statutes that forced any disclosure - even notifying morticians when they would handle the corpse of an AIDS victim.
Hatch complained that was proposed even though Congress really didn't know what AIDS disclosure laws the various states had. The new AIDS legislation is funding a 6-month study to review those state laws for Congress.
Win Froelich, a staff member of the Labor and Human Resources Committee, saidbecause knowledge of AIDS is changing so rapidly, Hatch and others are wary of making confidentiality requirements too rigid. He said developments could occur rapidly that might warrant disclosure to some group, but legislation to allow it could be slow in coming.
As an example of how fast AIDS knowledge can change, he said just two years ago the Center for Disease Control said women couldn't give AIDS to men through sexual intercourse. That now is held to be false.
Froelich said past proposals would also put doctors in no-win situations. If they failed to tell someone about a person who tested positive, they could be sued by anyone they infected. If they did disclose it, the AIDS victimn might sue saying he didn't meet technical procedures for the disclosure.
He said proposals have allowed "reasonable time for AIDS victims" to make such disclosures themselves, but didn't define what "reasonable" meant. "For a spouse, reasonable may be a matter of days." So he said much work remains on the issue. Hatch said he and Kennedy have agreed many other health issues must be addressed in the upcoming session, including providing more home health care, considering procedures to approve new drugs and medical devices and finding ways to revitalize the Food and Drug Administration to help it keep up with expanding duties.