CONTEXT:: Recent budget cuts have forced many local health departments (LHDs) to cut staff and services. Setting fees that cover the cost of service provision is one option for continuing to fund certain activities. OBJECTIVE:: To describe the use of fees by LHDs in Western Massachusetts and determine whether fees charged cover the cost of providing selected services. DESIGN:: A cross-sectional descriptive analysis was used to identify the types of services for which fees are charged and the fee amounts charged. A comparative cost analysis was conducted to compare fees charged with estimated costs of service provision. SETTING AND PARTICIPANTS:: Fifty-nine LHDs in Western Massachusetts. MAIN OUTCOME MEASURES:: Number of towns charging fees for selected types of services; minimum, maximum, and mean fee amounts; estimated cost of service provision; number of towns experiencing a surplus or deficit for each service; and average size of deficits experienced. RESULTS:: Enormous variation exists both in the types of services for which fees are charged and fee amounts charged. Fees set by most health departments did not cover the cost of service provision. Some fees were set as much as $600 below estimated costs. CONCLUSIONS:: These results suggest that considerations other than costs of service provision factor into the setting of fees by LHDs in Western Massachusetts. Given their limited and often uncertain funding, LHDs could benefit from examining their fee schedules to ensure that the fee amounts charged cover the costs of providing the services. Cost estimates should include at least the health agent's wage and time spent performing inspections and completing paperwork, travel expenses, and cost of necessary materials.
- local health departments
- public health services
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Health Policy
- Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health