State health agency asks Genesee to halt test charges

Chad Livengood
Detroit News Lansing Bureau

The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services on Friday asked the Genesee County Health Department to stop its laboratory from charging low-income Flint residents for testing their blood for potential toxic lead.

Flint's Breeze Harden breaks into tears as she is tested for lead.

Department Director Nick Lyon said the state wants to cover the cost of the $36 tests for any adult or child in Flint who doesn’t have health insurance or whose insurer doesn’t cover tests for lead in their bloodstream.

“Please suspend immediately any requirement for out-of-pocket payment,” Lyon wrote in a letter to Genesee County health officer Mark Valacak.

A private laboratory under contract had been directly billing patients from Flint who came to get their blood tested for lead in light of the city’s lead-contaminated water, said Geralyn Lasher, deputy director for external communication at the Department of Health and Human Services.

The state health department had heard complaints from Flint residents about the direct billing for the blood tests, prompting Lyon to issue his letter Friday, Lasher said.

“We said ‘We don’t want that to happen. We want to make sure we’re covering the cost,’” Lasher said.

State health officials have encouraged Flint residents to get their blood tested for lead, while stressing the importance for homeowners to have their tap water tested for lead.

The state health department is providing any Flint resident with free water testing kits as well as faucet filters and bottled water while the city’s drinking water remains unsafe to drink unfiltered.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention wants all Flint children under age six to have their blood tested for lead by April 1. Lead poisoning causes permanent brain damage to children, affecting their behavior and ability to learn.

Valacak could not be reached for comment Friday.

The Genesee County Health Department was closed Friday for a mandatory employee furlough that was paired with the President’s Day holiday on Monday.

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