Deukmejian Backs AIDS Initiative : Opposes All Insurance Proposals and New Tax on Cigarettes

Times Sacramento Bureau Chief

Gov. George Deukmejian Friday went on record in opposition to all the insurance proposals on the Nov. 8 ballot, declaring he wants to “clear the decks” of these special interest measures and help negotiate a “fair compromise.”

But Deukmejian, in announcing his positions on all 29 state ballot measures, endorsed controversial Proposition 102, which would eliminate anonymous testing for AIDS and require doctors to report to health authorities the names of patients infected with the deadly virus. The governor, the first statewide officeholder to endorse the proposal, said AIDS should be “treated like other communicable diseases.”

Concerning another hotly debated measure, Deukmejian took a stand against Proposition 99, which would raise the cigarette tax by 25 cents a pack. The money would be used to finance health care for uninsured indigents, anti-smoking education, research into tobacco-related diseases and parks improvement.


‘Tax Increase’

“This initiative is a tax increase. I oppose increasing taxes on the residents of California,” said the Republican governor, a nonsmoker, in a simple, two-sentence explanation.

A statewide survey last weekend by The Los Angeles Times Poll found voters rejecting all of the insurance proposals except consumer advocate Ralph Nader’s, Proposition 103. The survey also showed voters supporting the tobacco tax and opposing the AIDS proposal.

However, at the same time, the poll illustrated that many voters are confused about the complex measures. And the positions taken by Deukmejian, whom all polls show to be relatively popular, might have an impact on these voters’ final decisions.

Deukmejian did not address the five insurance measures separately, but lumped them all into one, firm statement of opposition.

“Each was designed to address only the interests of its particular sponsor rather than address the problems of auto insurance in their entirety,” the governor said.

Four Goals Cited

“These measures will not achieve the goals we must accomplish for insurance reform: (1) to ensure the availability of insurance; (2) to provide competition; (3) to ensure that premiums are reasonable, and, (4) to reform the tort (court) system to correct abuses and excessive (legal) fees.”

Deukmejian added that “automobile insurance reform is needed in California, but no balanced solution can be developed until the decks are cleared of these conflicting and incomplete proposals. Only then can the parties come to the table and negotiate a fair compromise that addresses the real issues instead of merely bolstering one interest at the expense of another.”

Kevin Brett, Deukmejian’s press secretary, said that “if you read between the lines, what the governor is saying is that the climate is not now conducive for the Legislature to come up with a solution. But if all these ballot measures fail, the Legislature should not interpret that as a sign the voters are satisfied with the status quo. Far from it. The governor would like to work with the Legislature toward a solution that embodies the four elements he spells out.”

Three of the five insurance measures on the ballot--Propositions 101, 104 and 106--are sponsored by insurance industry interests and, in various ways, would limit damage claims and litigation costs. Proposition 104 is a “no-fault” proposal. Proposition 106 would restrict trial lawyers’ contingency fees.

Would Roll Back Rates

Proposition 100, sponsored by trial lawyers, would reduce auto rates by 20% for “good drivers.” Nader’s sweeping Proposition 103, among other things, would immediately roll back all insurance rates by 20%.

With its “no-fault” proposal trailing badly in most polls, the insurance industry has been focusing its campaign resources on trying to defeat the trial lawyers’ Proposition 100 and Nader’s Proposition 103. Therefore, Deukmejian’s decision to oppose all five measures stands to help the insurance industry most.

The insurance industry in the past has been highly supportive of Deukmejian politically, having contributed $460,000 to his campaign treasury between 1985 and 1987. He received no donations from the trial lawyers’ lobby.

Except for Deukmejian, the AIDS initiative, sponsored by conservative Rep. William E. Dannemeyer (R-Fullerton), has been opposed by all statewide elected officials--including Republican U.S. Sen. Pete Wilson.

‘Greatest Challenge’

But the governor asserted that “combatting the deadly disease AIDS is the greatest medical challenge of modern times. Until a cure is found for AIDS, our only hope for protecting innocent lives is to stop its spread by treating AIDS like other communicable diseases.”

Deukmejian said the proposal “will provide public health officials with the critical information they need to stop the spread of AIDS, while maintaining the confidentiality of the doctor-patient relationship. The initiative provides the legal authorization for health officials to contact others, which is the case with other communicable diseases, and inform them they may have contacted the virus.

“The medical community is divided on this issue. I have carefully considered the opinions of the experts on both sides and have determined that the additional tools provided by this measure will enhance rather than impede efforts to stop the spread of AIDS.”

Deukmejian’s endorsement stunned opponents of the measure, who had presumed that he would agree with his top health advisers that the proposal would hamper efforts to control the disease by discouraging voluntary testing. In 1986, the governor went along with his advisers and opposed a somewhat similar, ultimately unsuccessful, ballot measure sponsored by political extremist Lyndon LaRouche.

Opposition Stated

Shortly after the governor’s announcement on Friday, several of the state’s academic hierarchy, including University of California President David Gardner, released a letter detailing their opposition to Proposition 102.

State Health Director Kenneth W. Kizer, one of Deukmejian’s key appointees, had no comment on the governor’s action. But as Deukmejian had been mulling over his decision, Kizer sent him a recommendation by his California AIDS Leadership Committee that the measure be opposed.

“If passed, Proposition 102 would impede testing, education and research on AIDS,” the committee report said, in part.

Dr. David Werdegar, director of the San Francisco Department of Public Health and a member of the governor’s AIDS committee, told a press conference Friday that Deukmejian “just put his name behind the most expensive and wasteful program in California history, making a radical policy shift without any support from AIDS experts.”