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AIDS Measure Would Be Costly to Implement, Economists Say

Times Staff Writer

Two UC Berkeley economists warned Wednesday that Proposition 102, a November ballot measure that would mandate far-reaching new controls in the fight against AIDS, would place massive new costs on taxpayers.

The initiative’s one-time cost of tracking and reporting on the hundreds of thousands of Californians thought to be infected with the HIV virus--but who have not yet developed the disease--was “conservatively” estimated by the researchers to be $765 million or 10 times the current state budget for AIDS education and study programs.

And, depending on how the initiative is interpreted by the courts and public health workers, the costs could be as high as $1.76 billion the first year and at least $168 million a year after that, according to the team of professors Robert M. Anderson and John W. Quigley.

“We are looking at staggering . . . extraordinarily large numbers,” Anderson told reporters at a press conference at the UCLA School of Public Health where the team presented an unpublished “working” research paper prepared under the auspices of Berkeley’s Graduate School of Public Policy. A public relations representative for opponents of Proposition 102 circulated at the press conference, but Anderson and Quigley said their research was independent of the campaign.

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Proposition 102, which is opposed by the California Medical Assn. and a bipartisan array of political leaders, public health officials and AIDS researchers, would require doctors and other health-care providers to report to public health officials anyone infected with the human immunodeficiency virus. Health officials would be required to conduct immediate investigations to identify sex partners and other contacts of the infected person who may also be carrying the virus.

Sponsored by Rep. William E. Dannemeyer (R-Fullerton) and anti-tax crusader and AIDS patient Paul Gann, the measure is the latest in a series of state initiatives that have sought to force highly controversial changes in the way the AIDS epidemic is being addressed by public health officials.

Those officials have generally encouraged education and safe sex practices as the best way to reduce the spread of the deadly disease and have opposed the ballot initiatives. Two previous initiatives, backed by followers of political extremist Lyndon LaRouche, could have required the quarantine of AIDS victims and were lopsidedly rejected by voters.

The new analysis predicting high costs if Proposition 102 passes drew criticism from initiative backers, saying it failed to project the possible long-term savings that could result if the tracing and identification of infected persons slows the spread of the disease.

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“You are not only going to be saving lives, but money in the long run,” said Brett Barbre, a spokesman for Dannemeyer. Barbre said he could not dispute the Berkeley researchers figures. “We have no way of knowing what the (cost) figures are,” he said, “because we don’t know how many people are infected.”

The nonpartisan state legislative analyst has estimated that there are 500,000 California residents infected with the virus and the public costs of the measure could be in the “tens to hundreds of millions of dollars annually.”

The Berkeley cost analysis is likely to be relied on heavily by Proposition 102 foes in the weeks ahead. The report comes at a time when some polls show Californians favor Proposition 102. Opponents used the high-cost arguments as part of their successful campaigns against the earlier LaRouche initiatives.

State Controller Gray Davis, co-chairman of the No on 102 Committee, issued a statement shortly after the press conference saying “the state can’t afford” the initiative and “this money would be infinitely better spent on advancing research for a cure to AIDS.”

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In addition to requiring reporting and investigation of those infected with the virus, the measure would remove restrictions on AIDS testing in hiring and granting insurance, according to the legislative analyst. It would also make it a felony to engage in prostitution or other sex crimes once persons know they have the virus.

Method of Calculation

Anderson and Quigley, in arriving at their estimates, calculated the cost of investigations, AIDS treatment costs that would be shifted from private insurance companies to public health systems and higher prison costs for those convicted of spreading the disease.

The higher range cost projections included “possible” lost tax income and schooling expenses should health officials interpret the measure to classify AIDS as a communicable disease. In that case, thousands of school and food handling workers who have the virus might have to be dismissed, the researchers said, and schoolchildren with the virus might have to be segregated.

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Barbre called this “hysteria” on the part of the opponents and said nothing in the measure requires employees to be dismissed.


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