Even though some hecklers didn't believe him, Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, told health officials from across the nation Monday that conservatives care just as much as liberals about AIDS and AIDS victims.

Then he outlined how he and other conservatives want Congress to address some problems created by the disease.As Hatch was addressing a national conference on AIDS sponsored by the Labor and Health and Human Services departments, he made a passing comment giving much of the credit for recent AIDS legislation to Sen. Jesse Helms, R-N.C. - despite widespread press reports that Helms almost killed it.

That brought boos from many in the audience, and forced Hatch to counterpunch.

"Let me tell those of you who booed," Hatch said, "liberals are not the only ones concerned about AIDS. Some of us conservatives have compassion too."

He said Helms was given a "bum rap" for forcing a compromise on the AIDS bill because he wanted more widespread disclosure of AIDS tests than the bill's wording allowed. While he did insist on compromise, Hatch said Helms used his influence to convince others to vote for the final bill.

Hatch said if Helms is branded with almost killing the bill for such actions, then liberals such as Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., would have to be accused of almost killing it too for stalling the bill to work out their own compromises.

Hatch said conservatives and liberals together have made important strides against AIDS since it was recognized in 1981, but many problems remain.

"In those eight years (since 1981), we have identified the virus that causes the disease, identified its modes of transmission, protected the blood supply and developed tests for the disease. We have even approved one drug that slows the progression of the disease."

One of the main problems with AIDS still to be resolved involves insurance for its victims, Hatch said.

For example, Hatch said insurance companies should be allowed to test people applying for life insurance - and maybe even health insurance - for AIDS and deny it if they test positive.

"We need to recognize that if we force insurance companies to cover AIDS patients, we are merely forcing other purchasers of health insurance to subsidize them," he said, because AIDS treatment will cost more than premiums that victims pay.

"We need to look at other solutions such as risk pools for the uninsurable, which have been adopted in 11 states, or Medicaid buy-ins."

Hatch also supported laws encouraging notification of spouses and sexual partners of AIDS victims, saying a South Carolina study showed it can be cost-effective, maintain confidentiality and result in voluntary testing and counseling.

Hatch said more funding is needed for the Food and Drug Administration to test drugs for AIDS and other diseases more quickly.

Also, Hatch said even more education about AIDS is needed.

"Every American needs to know that if they have a single monogamous relationship with a faithful partner and don't use intravenous drugs, they are at almost no risk of becoming infected with the AIDS virus," he said.