As of Oct. 5, health department agencies and healthcare centers throughout the state will no longer receive free testing from the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) for sexually transmitted diseases (STDs)
This means that instead of the state providing free testing for HIV, gonorrhea, chlamydia and other sexually transmitted diseases at state labs, the state will now shift the cost to local districts where health care facilities will be required to conduct testing either through commercial private facilities or local hospitals.
Providers were notified in August of the change with the IDPH, citing a desire to reallocate funds towards more complex testing to identify serious biological outbreaks like Ebola.
Last year, the state lab tested 85,000 samples for gonorrhea and chlamydia. The labs tested 13,000 samples for HIV and 21,000 samples for syphilis at a cost of $10.2 million.
IDPH spokeswoman Melaney Arnold told the Associated Press that the decision was made independent of the ongoing budget impasse in Springfield and that the change would be a permanent one.
“STD testing results typically one of two outcomes — positive or negative,” Arnold told the Associated Press. “The IDPH laboratory staff who spend part or most of their work time on STD testing are highly trained and are needed in more complicated testing areas.”
The IDPH suggests that providers outsource the testing to commercial private laboratories saying that the science required to generate results has become standardized enough to be done more cheaply than before.
“For example, a gonorrhea and chlamydia test, priced at $13 to $21 by other labs costs the state labs about $107 for personnel, materials, equipment and data processing,” Arnold said. “It’s just more economically practical to go this route.”
For West Side clinic Access Community Health Network, this change would not represent a dramatic shift since it’s already using a private laboratory to conduct its STD testing.
“Access Community Health Network does not use the state’s labs to process its STD specimens,” said Elaine Bowen, media relations specialist with Access.
“While we can’t speak for other health centers, our model — where we use one provider for all testing within our entire network — has allowed us to create operational efficiency and reduce overall costs.”
However, not everyone is sold on the idea that sending STD testing back to local jurisdictions is the best route to take. Some argue that the move could prove problematic for many local health departments that are already facing budget crises and potential staff layoffs as a direct result of the stalemate in Springfield over the state budget.
“It all hits at a difficult time,” Tom Hughes, Illinois Public Health Association spokesperson told the AP. “It’s kind of a perfect storm with the budget impasse and the state not providing the testing services.”
Despite his apprehensions though, Hughes expressed optimism that the local health departments will find a way to continue providing the important service.
“I would be very surprised if local health departments would curtail this type of testing,” Hughes said.
“STD tests are essential services.”