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Anchorage Health Department changes COVID-19 testing process, closing Loussac Library site with little notice

Published: Dec. 2, 2021 at 6:40 PM AKST|Updated: Dec. 3, 2021 at 7:15 PM AKST
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - Visit Healthcare testing sites, which thus far have been used by the Municipality of Anchorage to administer COVID-19 tests to residents, are slowly being changed over as Capstone Family Medicine based out of Wasilla is coming in to take them over.

“We’ve started the transition that we had discussed before on the testing locations going to a (Health Resources and Services Administration) model versus a city MOA-funded model,” said Anchorage Health Department Director Joe Gerace when he spoke with the Anchorage Assembly Health Policy Committee on Wednesday.

This means that the city is switching from a city-funded model to a federally funded one. Anchorage Assembly member Kameron Perez-Verdia said the change in test providers can help the city recoup some money from the tests themselves, and will not cost the community anything because right now the city is paying $98 per test.

“We’ve been paying $98 per test and that that cost has come from the city,” Perez-Verdia said. “Now understanding those costs are reimbursable through FEMA in most cases and so that was the expectation we had, is that we were spending that to provide tests, understanding we would get reimbursed by FEMA.”

Alaska’s News Source spoke with Gerace on Friday, when he explained more about the change.

“The decision was made back in July to start looking for some alternate options due to the fact that Visit (Healthcare) would not drop their rate from a pre-pandemic rate to a currently more common rate, which is the HRSA rate,” Gerace said.

Gerace said the HRSA rate is $65 per test while Visit Healthcare’s is $98 and to date, the city has spent more than $34 million just on testing. Perez-Verdia said earlier this week there are some cases that the city won’t be reimbursed by FEMA, but he said knowing they can bill for the costs of the test is a positive for the city.

“We are moving away from a city-paid model,” Gerace said. “It was costing us, at peak time, it was costing us $445,000 a week for testing. And so we’re doing what should have been done the whole time which is what FEMA really wants, which is first you try to get insurance to pay, second HRSA, and then third, the municipality would operate in a payback situation with FEMA.”

When people get tested for COVID-19 at a Capstone location, Capstone may ask for your insurance information if you have insurance, but you will not receive a bill from Capstone and uninsured patients can also get a free test.

“The person who has insurance, their insurance has some kind of stipulated rate with Capstone,” Gerace said. “If that fails, they then apply that person’s information to the HRSA program. The HRSA program will then compensate Capstone for the testing. If that fails, Capstone basically takes a loss.”

Gerace said since Capstone has begun operating in Anchorage, the company has had $1.3 million in unreimbursed tests. Also, the city has no say when it comes to Capstone’s operations due to them being a private vendor and not contracted by the city, but if needed, Gerace said the city still has funds available to re-open some clinics.

For now, the city is switching over many of their sites to Capstone. The city closed the testing site at the Loussac Library, one of the city’s busiest, on Wednesday in order to transition that location to a site on C Street to be run by Capstone. When Alaska’s News Source reached out to the Anchorage Health Department for an interview about the changes on Thursday, spokesperson Robert McNeily replied that the health department had “widely noticed” the new testing site location via social media.

The Loussac Library put out a poster on its door, and made posts to Facebook and Twitter late Wednesday notifying people about the location change. The Anchorage Health Department, however, made one post to its social media accounts on Wednesday after the Loussac location had been relocated, which said “Stay up to date with the most relevant coronavirus information including new testing sites.” The public posts did not mention that the Loussac Library location would be closing or that it had been moved to C Street.

The health department’s actual website for finding testing locations does include an alert telling people about the site change. There was no information on social media sites run by the Anchorage Health Department as to the reason for the change or specific revised locations.

This change also comes with Capstone taking over the Visit Healthcare location in Eagle River, the Loussac replacement site at 4810 C St., and a new testing site in Alaska Park on Spenard Road. The existing Muldoon and Changepoint locations will make the transition from Visit Healthcare to Capstone in the coming weeks, Gerace said Wednesday in the health policy committee meeting. Capstone also already operates testing sites for the state at the University of Alaska Anchorage and at Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport.

Perez-Verdia said he wished the city had communicated these changes more effectively.

“I think it’s a failure of the administration to not have communicated this better,” Perez-Verdia said. “I think it’s really important that when we change things so significantly like these testing sites that we let the public know in advance, and that we do as much as we can to get it out so that people know where to go and where to get the services they need.”

Find more information regarding getting tested for COVID-19 in the municipality here.

Editor’s note: This article has been updated with additional information from the Anchorage Health Department.

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