CHARLESTON, W.Va. - No one in West Virginia who is tested for HIV or a sexually transmitted disease is required to pay for that testing, according to state law.
It's going to remain that way, after a House committee resoundingly defeated a measure Monday calling for changes to the payment policy.
Senate Bill 428 made all patients responsible for paying the cost of an HIV or STD test, regardless if the test is done at a private practice or public health facility. However, the bill would still allow local health departments to not charge those who could not afford the tests, according to sliding scale policies created at the discretion of each county.
Public health officials say the bill called on insured to pay their bills and acknowledged more people would be insured soon under provisions of the Affordable Care Act.
"If someone comes in with full insurance, we still cannot bill them," said Dr. Rahul Gupta, executive director of the Kanawha-Charleston Health Department.
"If people have private insurance, and we are unable to bill, guess who picks up the tab on that? The taxpayers. So in a way, we are subsidizing the private industry," Gupta continued.
Dr. Marian Swinker, commissioner for the state Bureau of Public Health, said as much to the House Health and Human Resources Committee Monday morning. Swinker, representing the Department of Health and Human Resources, also told the committee the federal government is reducing the amount of money states can spend on the testing.
In the last two years, grant dollars from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention dropped from $1.7 million to about $1 million, Swinker said. With the national health care law, commonly referred to as "Obamacare," providing more people with insurance, Swinker told the committee the federal government wants people to rely on the insurance the program provides.
"The theory being, money is now going toward paying for health insurance, so the safety net need not be as broad," Swinker said.
The committee didn't buy the argument.
Delegate Meshea Poore said there were still too many questions about funding for the testing. She said until Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin decides whether that state will expand its Medicaid program, it's premature to act on the measure.
"Are you telling this committee we can't find $200,000 somewhere to make this program work effectively or efficiently?" Delegate Clif Moore, D-McDowell, asked Swinker during the meeting.
Moore and Poore both thought the idea of any cost related to testing could dissuade those without the financial ability from pursuing the tests.