By Monique Garcia
The Illinois Department of Public Health will no longer provide testing of sexually transmitted infections for dozens of county health departments and other facilities, saying resources must be shifted to more complicated testing to identify disease outbreaks and biological threats.
The service was discontinued Monday, though providers were first notified of the change in an August letter citing "decreased financial and human resources." Agency spokeswoman Melaney Arnold said the decision was permanent and was not related to the budget impasse that has prevented some programs from receiving funding.
The state spent $10.2 million on testing for gonorrhea, chlamydia, syphilis and HIV specimens during the last budget year. While some providers offered free testing, Arnold said the state did not require local health care departments to do so.
The agency suggested health care providers instead hire commercial private laboratories to offer the testing, saying the science has become standardized and can be done quicker and more cheaply. Arnold said many of the facilities affected could instead bill the federal government under Medicaid or the Affordable Care Act.
"STD testing results typically have one of two outcomes -- positive or negative," Arnold said in a statement. "The IDPH laboratory staff who spend part or most of their work time on STD testing are highly trained and are needed in more complex testing areas."
Still, the change came as a shock to many providers that were left scrambling to find new laboratories that are expected to charge more than the state, particularly those that care for patients regardless of their ability to pay.
"We begged them not to do this," said Pam Sutherland, a lobbyist for Planned Parenthood of Illinois, which sent the state tests for an average of 21,000 patients a year. "It's a partnership that we hate to see go away."
(c)2015 the Chicago Tribune