CLINICAL LABS: Report Says Doctors’ Fees Should Support
A new legislative report calls for reform in the Laboratory Field Services Agency as well as for changes in its funding, the San Francisco Chronicle reports. The report came at the behest of state Sen. Mike Thompson (D-Santa Rosa), who became concerned about funding cuts to the agency after a Chronicle story detailed the impact on staffing. (See CHL 3/2). The agency's personnel was scaled back from 20 to 16, "despite an internal recommendation that the staff be expanded to 30." The Chronicle reports that the "cutbacks added fuel to charges by former Public Health Laboratory Director Michael Volz that the Wilson administration was deliberately trying to scuttle the watchdog agency." LFS is responsible for overseeing the operations of medical labs and ensuring that medical tests are performed correctly. "An estimated 80% of all medical decisions derive from those diagnostic tests," which include Pap smears and AIDS tests. According to the health department, the agency was underfunded to the tune of $600,000 this year, including some $330,000 "in fee income for the program [that] had been inappropriately diverted to a different health department agency."
Legislative analyst Elizabeth Hill recommends that the state Legislature pass a law requiring doctors "conducting any but the simplest lab tests in their offices to have a licensed clinical laboratory technician on staff." Furthermore, she advises that physician office labs be required to pay fees to support LFS as all other labs do. She found that fees of $800 would not constitute "an unreasonable fiscal burden." Joan Hall, analyst for the California Medical Association, said "doctors still pay fees to the federal government to support lab inspections." Thus, she said, any new state fees would be "duplicative" (Russel, 5/4).