Electrical engineering sophomore Carlos Borja went to University Health Services to get tested for sexually transmitted infections his first year at UT. Before getting tested, he spoke with nurses who informed him that if his parents paid for medical insurance, they may be able to find out he was getting tested. While UHS is committed to protecting students’ privacy, the primary cardholder of the insurance plan — which is often a student’s parents — is able to see at least where tests were run and how much they cost.
When he was tested, Borja had not yet come out to his parents about his sexuality and also wanted his parents to be unaware he was sexually active. Students are permitted to stay on their parents’ insurance plan until 26 years of age, so many university students, including Borja, are financially dependent on their parents when it comes to their health.
Instead of using insurance, Borja wanted to pay the cost himself to prevent the risk of his parents finding out. It would have cost him upwards of $250 to get tested for everything he needed to. Borja did not get tested at UHS that day.
According to the Spring 2017 National College Health Assessment II University of Texas at Austin Executive Summary, over 62.9 percent of students were sexually active in the past year, and 10.5 percent of UT students had four or more sexual partners in the past year. People should get tested every time they have a new sexual partner. This is the only way to ensure you are free of any STIs that could severely harm your health.
Based on this data, if every sexually active student used UHS, UHS would have had to run at least 46,523 tests annually for every type of STI. Sherry Bell, the UHS consumer education and outreach coordinator, said that in the past year UHS has run 7,202 tests for chlamydia and gonorrhea. This figure is less than 16 percent of the number of tests that should have been run if students were being tested as frequently as they need to at UHS.
Students who have riskier sexual behaviors or who need multiple locations swabbed for STI tests could end up paying high costs like Borja had to. Paying $250 per sexual partner for over four sexual partners each year could leave students responsible for upwards of a thousand dollars annually if they chose to protect their privacy and not use insurance.
For many students, paying $100+ upfront for all STI testing in order to ensure privacy from their parents is not feasible and can cause them to leave UHS without getting tested. Borja knew how important it was to get tested, so he went to the Austin Center for Health Empowerment for free testing subsidized by the City of Austin. He had to travel to East Austin instead of using the clinic up the road from his dorm. Students should be able to use the resources the University provides for them.
At The University of Virginia, it costs $18 to get tested for either chlamydia or gonorrhea, or $32 to get tested for both, whereas at UT there is a single combined charge of $56 for both. At The University of Wisconsin-Madison, STI testing is free to all students when ordered by a university-employed physician.
UHS should follow these universities’ practices and offer free STI testing services, or at least offer a reduced price to students who choose not to use their medical insurance. The UHS leadership should reevaluate their prices; students deserve easier access to student resources and the medical tests they need.
Dighe is a Plan II and neuroscience sophomore from Houston.