Anchorage public health labs planning cuts

Posted: Wednesday, July 21, 2010

ANCHORAGE - The Alaska Division of Public Health says it's been operating about 7 percent over budget and has to look for ways to cut hundreds of thousands of dollars in spending, but officials say a letter announcing the end of free testing last week was premature.

State officials say free testing will continue to help identify diseases such as HIV, herpes and hepatitis.

Deputy Division Director Kerre Fisher told The Anchorage Daily News the agency hasn't decided yet where to cut. She said the division must cut spending because its federal grant money is dwindling.

One of the people who got the letter Friday - Dr. Bruce Chandler, chief medical director for Anchorage - said it came "out of the blue." Chandler also is a pediatrician at the Anchorage Neighborhood Health Center, which serves all comers, including those who have no insurance.

After receiving a second letter rescinding the first one, he said, "I don't know what's going on except I'm glad they reinstated the testing. It's good for the people of Alaska."

It's mostly the poor and uninsured whose test samples go to the state labs, said Joan Fisher, director of the neighborhood health center. The center sends more than 200 samples a week to state labs.

If that service disappears, she said, "It really will make us have to refigure our business. It's kind of scary."

If patients have Medicaid, Medicare or private insurance, their samples go to private testing laboratories and are all or partially covered by insurance, she said.

The state has a virology lab in Fairbanks and a microbiology lab in Anchorage. The Fairbanks lab tests for viruses such as HIV and herpes. The Anchorage lab tests for tuberculosis, salmonella, and food poisoning.

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