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Coburn HIV Prevention Act Rears its Deceptive Head - Again!

March 18, 1997

On March 12th, Rep. Tom Coburn (R-OK) introduced H.R. 1062, the HIV Prevention Act of 1997.*

Rep. Coburn is circulating his bill for co-sponsorship, and to date has 72 co-sponsors. The majority of the co-sponsors have traditionally not been supportive of AIDS issues. We were surprised that the following seven Reps. signed on to Coburn's bill however: BRIAN BILBRAY (R-CA), TOM DAVIS (R-VA), GREG GANSKE (R-IA), SCOTT KLUG (R-WI), SCOTT MCINNIS (R-CO), SUSAN MOLINARI (R-NY) & JIM SAXTON (R-NJ). Call Tracy Mickens-Hundley at ext. 3053 for further information on other co-sponsors. Unfortunately, the American Medical Association has also lent its support to this bill and is circulating a letter of support to all members of the House.

AIDS Action

Call your Representatives and urge them NOT to co-sponsor the Coburn HIV Prevention Act of 1997.* If your Representative has signed on to the bill--especially those listed above--urge them to reconsider their sponsorship.

The 1997 Coburn bill is just as deceptive in name as the version introduced last year. Nothing in Coburn's "prevention" bill has anything to do with preventing the spread of HIV. As you know, the only way to prevent people from becoming infected with HIV is to provide them with straight-forward information about how HIV is transmitted and how they can modify behaviors that may put them at risk. Rep. Coburn's bill merely promotes a hodge-podge of coercive testing-related policies, under the rationale that identifying people who are HIV-positive, in and of itself, will somehow prevent others from being infected.

Under Coburn's bill, states must change their laws to implement the provisions of the Coburn bill in order to receive federal Medicaid funds. Fifty-three percent of adults and 90% of children living with AIDS rely on Medicaid to receive basic health care services.

The Coburn bill specifically provides that states can pass Coburn-required laws or regulations that violate current requirements of the Ryan White Care Act and still get Care Act funds. The Ryan White Care Act requires states to meet certain requirements in order to receive Ryan White dollars, such as having laws protecting confidentiality. The Coburn bill would render these and all other protections of the Ryan White Care Act meaningless.

The Coburn bill includes provisions that:

  • Allow medical professionals to refuse treatment to any individual who has not been tested for HIV, instead of encouraging medical professionals to talk to their patients about HIV, counsel them about risk reduction, and encourage patients to be tested voluntarily. It also places these professionals at greater risk by not encouraging them to use universal precautions, the only practice that really protects them from accidental exposure to HIV and other blood-borne diseases.
  • Mandates that all states report names of HIV-positive individuals to the CDC to create a federal partner notification program, despite the fact that all states already have partner notification programs. States would be required to provide detailed "information" about everyone who tests positive to the CDC to be "shared" between states to track partners nationally.
  • Require states to implement new complicated and confusing processes for HIV testing of accused sexual offenders, even though the Crime Control Act of 1994 already provides for testing of sex offenders in federal court and at least 44 states and D.C. have laws explicitly providing for HIV tests in sexual offense cases. The Coburn bill does not give victims control over whether or not testing occurs nor does it require that the victim be given counseling, testing or care. It also compromises the victim's confidentiality by requiring disclosure of the defendant's test results to practically every attorney involved in the case, as well as the public health department.

And while the Coburn bill contains a non-binding, non-enforceable "Sense of Congress" that confidentiality "should" be maintained in implementing the Coburn provisions, it specifically directs states to ignore existing Care Act provisions and forces them to either eliminate any existing state law protections or risk losing federal medicaid funding.

The Coburn bill includes several other "test and report" provisions dealing with everything from funeral homes to adoption agencies, all of which are state-law issues and none of which are "national" problems.


Many of the policies advocated in the Coburn bill have explicitly been rejected as ineffective and prohibitively expensive by medical, public health and prevention experts nationwide. Others are unnecessary and confusing variations of current law. And the Coburn bill as a whole will just tie the hands of states and communities already implementing real prevention programs and practices to stop the spread of HIV locally.

At this time it is unclear how quickly this bill will move in the House, but the more support it gets in congress, the harder it will be to stop these provisions from becoming federal law. Now is the time to communicate your opposition to this bill to your Reps. and keep them from signing on.

We have heard that Senator Nickels (R-OK) plans to introduce a companion bill in the Senate. We will let you know when/if that happens as well. More updates to come!

* Many bills have been called the "HIV Prevention Act", so to avoid confusion when communicating with your Reps., always refer to Coburn's bill as the "Coburn HIV Prevention Act of 1997."

For more information, contact
AIDS Action Council
1875 Connecticut Avenue NW #700
Washington DC 20009
202-986-1345 (fax)
202-332-9614 (tty)

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This article was provided by AIDS Action Council.
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