Daunting STI costs problematic for students, funding needed

Students call for more affordable reproductive healthcare on campus

By NORA SACKETT

THREE YEARS AGO, as a first year student at Lewis & Clark, I made my way to Student Health Services for the first time to get tested for STDs. Being a young, sexually active student, I wanted to be sure I was sexually healthy, and I assumed that I could count on my campus health center for affordable access to reproductive healthcare. I informed the nurse at the front desk of what I wanted, and she informed me that while she could certainly accommodate my request, it was going to cost me around $200. At no point did she mention anything about submitting that cost to my insurance for reimbursement. I was a first year — I knew nothing about Portland, such as where else I could get STI screening. Even if I did, there are no Planned Parenthood clinics near the LC campus, and I had no car or knowledge of Portland city transportation. I felt that I had no choice but to pony up the $200 for the test at LC, which I did. I’m not alone; many LC students have felt that they had nowhere else to turn for their reproductive health care and have resigned to paying the cost of STI screening at LC. I say that cost is far too high.

In the 2014-2015 school year, the total estimated cost for STI screenings was $27,687.53; nearly $28,000 dollars paid by students to the LC health center to receive reproductive health care. I should note that the health center does not profit from these charges; the prices are set by the third-party facilities to which LC Student Health Services sends out their samples to be tested. A student asking for a standard STI test is normally tested for chlamydia, gonorrhea, HIV, herpes simplex virus, and syphilis. Students with cervixes also often get pap smears in order to check for HPV. That average combination of tests costs $181.84, and that cost rises to $215.02 with the pap. Now the health center would be quick to point out that if a student is on the school-sponsored health insurance, their STI screening costs are 100% reimbursable by the insurance. However, only about 30% of LC students are on that insurance; the majority are on their parents’ insurance. If a student on their parents’ insurance was to submit the LC health center bill for STI testing to their insurance for reimbursement, that cost would show up on the statements that their parents receive. Many students aren’t comfortable with their parents knowing about their sexual activity, and they are well within their rights to keep that information to themselves. A student’s sexual activity is no one’s business but their own, and students should be able to have access to low-cost STI screening without having to compromise that. The high cost of STI tests at LC Student Health Services stands as a barrier to that access.

I’m not accusing Student Health Services of purposefully keeping the price of STI testing high. They simply aren’t allocated enough funding to sufficiently subsidize the cost of testing, which is decided by the testing laboratories. When I first began looking into this issue, I contacted the LC Business and Finance Department, asking about what kind of funding the health center receives and if there were any financial allocation reports from the college that I could take a look at. The Business and Finance Department passed m y email off to another department and my inquiries about how funding is dispersed throughout the school were never answered.

I don’t know how to best navigate the administration or the college- wide mess that is financial allocation, but I do know that there can be a simple answer to this problem: funding. More funding would at least defray the cost of STI testing at the L C student health center. I hope that my fellow students can join me in pressuring the college to move funding towards STI testing, as this is a cause that affects every student on campus. Tell your ASLC Senate class representative that you think this issue deserves attention. Send an email to the Dean of Students, Anna Gonzalez, the Associate Dean of Students for Health & Wellness, John Hancock, or the Associate Director for Health Promotion, Melissa Osmond. The more students speak up, the sooner we can see change. Students deserve low-cost access to reproductive health care on their own college campus, free from concern of judgment, and Lewis & Clark College should work to provide it.

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