State public health officials are worried that Georgia will soon lose up to $1.5 million in CDC funds for treating sexually transmitted diseases. “This...

State public health officials are worried that Georgia will soon lose up to $1.5 million in CDC funds for treating sexually transmitted diseases.

“This will be devastating to Georgia,’’ said Dr. Brenda Fitzgerald, commissioner of the Department of Public Health, as she discussed the possible funding reduction at the agency’s board meeting last week.

The funding cut would affect clinical services, including lab testing, nurses, lab positions, and gonorrhea and chlamydia testing kits for all 18 districts, Public Health said.

Georgia has one of the highest rates of STDs in the nation. A 2010 CDC report said Georgia was No. 3 among states in its syphilis rate, 13th in chlamydial infections and sixth in gonorrheal infections.

A CDC spokeswoman told GHN that any talk of possible changes to CDC funding is just speculation, and that the agency ‘‘is not considering eliminating funding for STD clinical preventive services.’’

Georgia public health officials, though, say the CDC has indicated that STD treatment funding would duplicate services that are expected to be provided under the Affordable Care Act, the federal health reform law passed in 2010.

“The assumption is that with ACA, there will be far fewer uninsured, and the state just needs to bill the insurer for the treatment rendered rather than using grant funds to treat individuals,’’ said Nancy Nydam, a Public Health spokeswoman, in a statement.

But that assumption is now in doubt.

Part of the ACA’s plan to reduce the number of uninsured people is to have states expand their Medicaid programs to cover them. But the Supreme Court has ruled that states don’t have to go along, and Georgia says it won’t pursue expansion. That will leave hundreds of thousands of people in the state still uninsured.

Fitzgerald noted that several Southern states – which generally have high STD rates – have said they won’t expand Medicaid.

Two studies released by the CDC this month show surges in rates of STDs nationally, in addition to troubling reports of treatment-resistant gonorrhea cases.

In 2008, there were 20 million new incidents of infection in the U.S. Nearly half occur among those age 15 to 24.

In addition to increasing a person’s risk for HIV infection, STDs can lead to severe reproductive health complications, such as infertility. STDs cost the nation about $17 billion in health care costs annually.

A CDC funding reduction would not affect HIV/AIDS programs, Nydam said. “But the concern is that this is an indicator of upcoming changes,’’ she said.

The Department of Public Health, like other state agencies, is facing a budget crunch due to sluggish state revenues. The agency has been ordered to cut its budget by 3 percent.

“Cutting out treatment services prior to an appropriate transition time will lead to poor patient outcomes, increased infant mortality and morbidity, and the spread of STDs,” Nydam said.

“All states are concerned about the impact of the redirection,’’ she added. “We all want transition time so as not to leave patients without treatment. “

Salina Cranor, a spokeswoman for a CDC unit that oversees STD work, said in an email statement that “although CDC is currently reviewing STD prevention funding mechanisms, CDC is not considering eliminating funding for STD clinical preventive services.’’

“We do not anticipate making any significant cuts to the overall STD prevention budget,’’ the statement said. “We can’t speculate on the level of funding for any particular state.’’

The state said it expects a CDC decision on the funding in roughly three months.


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Andy Miller

Andy Miller is editor and CEO of Georgia Health News

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