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SPH to consider billing insurance for coronavirus testing

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On this Thursday’s Covid Brief with Kathleen Gustafson, the panel from the City of Homer’s Emergency Operations Center had a lot of new information for the public as the seasons change.
    South Peninsula Hospital’s Derotha Ferraro said she’s been getting a lot of questions about the basics on the hospital’s Covid Hotline.
    “You know, there are folks that were maybe out fishing all summer or went out of state all summer, or really just, like unplugged all summer, and they're very out of the loop on what we consider common information because we do this every week. And so just a reminder that we test up here at the hospital mainly to people who have symptoms. If anybody has a COVID symptom and the list is really long and the school district has sent that list out to everybody,” Ferraro said. “But I guess just a reminder for new folks that are just kinda connecting, it's: cough, fatigue, fever, chills, difficulty breathing, headaches, muscle aches, joint aches, nausea, rash, diarrhea, decreased sense of smell or taste, runny nose, sore throat, increased phlegm production, or the sudden onset of any new or unexplained symptom. And it can just be one of those symptoms. If you have a symptom you qualify for testing.”
    Ferraro said the rate of testing has slowed, as cannery workers and fishermen are no longer coming in, and dental offices are conducting tests for their patients themselves.
    Up until this point, coronavirus tests have been free of charge, and individual insurance has not been billed. Ferraro says that may change, but testing will still be at no cost to the patient.
    “So we are talking about going ahead and starting to bill insurance companies, because that is available. Insurance companies will pay for those, those tests,” she said. “So we are starting to, as we look at the wintertime, and the CARES funding starts winding down, to go ahead and start billing the insurance company. But that would not go to the patients, that would go to the insurance company.”
    Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines have changed regarding testing recommendations for those potentially exposed to the virus, but according to the City of Homer’s Jenny Carrol, the changes should not affect how tests are administered in Alaska.
    Carrol also updated listeners on the city’s Small Business Economic Recovery Grant, or S-BERG program.
    “To date, that's distributed $864,000 of federal CARES act relief funding to 288 businesses. And I want to remind people that the deadline to apply is in about a month on September 25th. And for more information on that program, go to the city website. That's CityofHomer-AK.gov, and you can click on the SBERG link that's there on the main page. We are actively working right now on the next set of economic relief grant programs I explained in the last Thursday update. Those are for nonprofits, childcare businesses and social service organizations. Those three programs are somewhat related. And so we're going to release them all at once. And we're expecting the release date just after Labor Day.”
    She said the other grant relief programs that the city has formed have different requirements.
    “Then there are two other programs, childcare businesses and social service provider organizations can apply for funds above and beyond the limits of the non profit economic relief grant program, and the SBERG, the small business grant program,” Carrol said. “So I encourage people to look at the overall program and see where you best fit.”
    Since neither the City of Homer, nor the Kenai Peninsula Borough has the authority to mandate universal mask-wearing, Carroll says it’s up to individuals to be cautious.
    “So, what I want to say is it really emphasizes the importance and support of our citizens to continue the preventative measures on their own, to take care of themselves, to allow our businesses and schools to stay open and working as normally as we can in this situation. You know, it's important to wear masks. It's important to keep the distance and also just social bubbles, keeping them smaller right now, as we send our kids off to school, many of us are transitioning back into working in our offices,” Carrol said. “Labor day is coming up where we want to get together and just celebrate the bounty of the harvest season with people. And it just, that's a, those are all really great and healthy things that we do. And just remember, try to keep it small, keep that distance, so that we can keep our case count down and the community just doing a fantastic job at that.”
    Alaska Public Health Nurse Lorne Carrol detailed how the division has changed its contact tracing procedures.
    “This method or a change in our approach is, is to help us public health centers get coverage for when they have a particularly large amount of cases coming in on the same day or the same week,” he said. “You know, if you recall, back in June, Southern Kenai peninsula had a lot of cases coming in several each day, and that's more than just three or four public health nurses can take on.”
    Carrol is one of the team captains supervising a group of contact tracers
    “There's about five team captains and up to 50 contact tracers working in what we like to call a matrix or centralized staffing model,” Nurse Carrol said. “So each of these team captains, like for example, I'm a team captain today and I'm helping facilitate a small component of the workforce that's about 10 folks statewide. And I assign them index cases and follow up on positive folks throughout the day.”
 

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