Report Says California Counties Will Have to Invest Millions to Prepare for Bioterrorism
Increasing their preparedness for possible bioterrorist attacks could cost California counties $80 million in start-up costs and an additional $50 to $60 million per year, according to a new report from the County Health Executives Association of California and the California Conference of Local Health Officers. The Los Angeles Times reports that the study, based on a survey of counties, determined that $70 to $80 million was needed to "cover start-up costs and the first six months of new workers' salaries." According to Judith Reigal of the County Health Executives Association, continuing yearly expenses could reach $60 million. The Times reports that these figures are so high in part because funding for the public health system and its laboratories have lagged "for years." Now, the recent anthrax scare has "thrust" counties "into the issue as never before," placing them in a "lead role in responding to the threat of bioterrorism." According to some county health officials, localities will not be able to prepare adequately for a bioterrorist attack without help from the state and federal governments, an uncertain prospect given the declining economy. Some counties have proposed a quarter-cent increase in the state sales tax to raise $1 billion for bioterrorism preparedness. Anthony Wright, a spokesperson for Health Access of California, said that because the state is facing a $14 billion budget shortfall next year, a sales tax hike might be counties' "only hope for state help," as "[b]udget cuts this year have already trimmed money for trauma centers and community clinics" (Larrubia, Los Angeles Times, 11/26).
Meanwhile, the state Department of Health Services has issued new regulations requiring doctors and laboratories to "report within an hour cases of smallpox, viral fevers such as Ebola and other pathogens likely to be used by bioterrorists," the Times reports. The rules took effect on an "emergency basis" earlier this month and will be discussed in hearings scheduled for January. The regulations would become permanent if approved by the state office of administrative law. The new regulations are designed to update the state's current rules for reporting and tracking diseases that could be linked to bioterrorism -- rules "so old they still allowed infectious diseases to be reported by telegraph" (Bernstein, Los Angeles Times, 11/24).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.