A House subcommittee yesterday killed an attempt to overturn District legislation protecting persons who test positive for exposure to the AIDS virus from being denied insurance coverage. The main avenue for opposition to the controversial law now appears to be a referendum being proposed for the November ballot.
The House District subcommittee on fiscal affairs voted 5 to 2 against a resolution disapproving the AIDS measure after hearing from four local clergymen and one insurance company representative who opposed the city law.
The Rev. Cleveland Sparrow, chairman of the D.C. Moral Majority, said the measure, approved by the D.C. Council in May, would result in the public's paying higher insurance premiums to subsidize protection for persons at high risk of getting acquired immune deficiency syndrome, such as male homosexuals and intravenous drug users.
"Drug addicts, prostitutes of all kinds and homosexuals will flock to D.C. to get health insurance they can't get elsewhere," Sparrow testified. "Many will come here to die as the sin bill becomes due and payable. The Capital City will become the center for collection of the sin bills."
The city legislation, believed to be the strongest of its kind in the country, prohibits insurers from denying health, life or disability insurance coverage to persons on the basis of a positive test for exposure to the AIDS virus. For five years, insurance companies could not charge such persons higher premiums.
The measure's protections would not extend to persons who have AIDS.
Several members of the subcommittee, chaired by Del. Walter E. Fauntroy (D-D.C.), said that the issue before them was not the substance of the legislation but whether Congress should interfere with a local decision.
District officials, including City Administrator Thomas M. Downs, D.C. Council Chairman David A. Clarke and council member John Ray (D-At Large), sponsor of the legislation, also focused on home rule in testifying against the effort to overturn the measure.
Rep. William E. Dannemeyer (R-Calif.), sponsor of the resolution, charged that male homosexuals were being given unmerited preferential treatment because of their "political clout."
A 30-day congressional review period is expected to end Aug. 6. The legislation will go into effect after that unless Congress acts to disapprove it or supporters of a referendum against the measure garner 13,/000 signatures by then to put the issue to a vote in November.
The subcommittee's disapproval makes congressional action unlikely, as it would take the signatures of 218 members of Congress on a petition to bring the resolution to a vote on the House floor.
The D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics ruled on July 7 that the question of whether the new legislation should be overturned was a proper subject for a referendum. Supporters of the law have until tomorrow to challenge the referendum effort in D.C. Superior Court, a board spokeswoman said.
If there is no challenge, and the referendum is put on the Nov. 4 ballot, the AIDS law would be suspended until that vote.