Washington Report

April 1, 2003
Combination of demands sharpens pinch of personnel shortageThe new Homeland Security Department ad campaign kicked off in February with its Ready.Gov website, full of information compiled for citizens to prepare for biological, chemical or nuclear events. The threat of bioterrorism has not only resulted in the massive reorganization of the federal government, but demands on the clinical laboratory community to mobilize for the anthrax threat also came at a time in its own history when personnel shortfalls were having an adverse impact on healthcare, period. The Bureau of Labor Statistics cited vacancy rates for lab positions at 9 to 20 percent back in 1998, with the deficit of qualified workers growing by 4,000 to 5,000 yearly. With medical laboratory programs decreasing in number, with an increasing aging population (Floridas over-65 group alone will increase by 66 percent by 2020), and with laboratory professionals retiring (at an average age of 45 to 49) bioterrorism notwithstanding laboratories have had their share of difficult adjustments. On the positive side, however, are the continuing upgrades in technology that automate and streamline the ways in which laboratories function, making it possible for fewer technicians to perform the needed volume of testing. Now, another avenue of relief may be in sight. In 2004, grants, scholarships and loans totaling some $129.4 million could be available for training medical technologists, medical laboratory technicians and other medical laboratory personnel under HR 623, introduced in February by John Shimkus (R-IL) and Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-IL), and cosponsored by Michael Bilirakis (R-FL). Jacksons press secretary, Frank Watkins points out that Jackson also introduced a resolution giving all citizens the right to adequate healthcare via a Constitutional amendment.Jackson wrote for The New York Times last November, The nationshealth care system is confronting a crisis … The cost of private health insurance is surging upward even as patients are required to pay more out of pocket and are receiving fewer benefits. More than 41 million Americans lack health insurance. Malpractice premiums are soaring … tens of thousands of patients die each year as a result of medical errors. These and other disturbing trends have only been getting worse, with no clear solution in sight. Funding such as that proposed in HR 623 would go a long way to remedy the challenges presented to the clinical laboratory profession. Stop-gap measures such as cross-training, oversight, licensure and muddled CLIA requirements and declining entrants into the field might well be considerably reduced or eliminated with this degree of focused financial aid in education. According to Anthony S. Fauci, M.D. and director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, In general, we have a good public health system for certain things. What we dont have is something that we really lost . . . a very strong local and state public health system. Over the decades, Fauci contends, [it] has gone into some disrepair and disarray, and thats what needs to be built up, and thats why a significant portion of the counter-bioterrorism funds that are being put forth by the Administration and Congress are directed at enhancing the local public health infrastructure. When it comes to bioterrorism and its insidious infectious diseases, weve let slip something that was once pretty good. Now we need to be good again.Dr. Faucis comments may well challenge initiates into the world of the medical laboratory, as well as soon-retiring laboratorians, to turn the threat of bioterrorism into an opportunity to lead the way to being good again. Surely, increased funding to educate additional personnel in this critical area of healthcare would help. Final security rulesWith the adoption of final security standards (published in the Federal Register Feb. 20) by the Department of Health and Human Services under HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) for protecting electronic patient health information, entities such as insurers, certain providers and healthcare clearinghouses are now required to establish procedures and mechanisms to protect confidentiality, integrity and availability. To view the final rules, which take effect April 21, 2005, (2006 for small health plans), go to
Carren Bersch, managing editor of MLO, formerly specialized in legislative issues for a major Washington, D.C. pharmaceutical association. As has been the history of MLOs Washington Report, this space will be
devoted in 2003 to keeping readers abreast of ongoing issues and new legislation affecting the clinical laboratory and its professional managers and technicians. If there is a particular legislative question or a legislative topic of special interest to your organization, please e-mail:
[email protected].
April 2003: Vol. 35, No. 4
© 2003 Nelson Publishing, Inc. All rights reserved.