Column: It’s about time – Campus Health will bring STI testing in-house

The STI testing services at the University’s Health Campus have long been a bane to students, especially those learning about sex, STIs, and how health insurance works.

Fortunately, services will be faster – and potentially more private – after Campus Health purchases new lab equipment that will allow them to perform on-site testing.

The lab will be able to test the full range of common STIs / STDs in addition to rapid tests for influenza, COVID-19 tests and certain other respiratory infections, according to an email from UNC Media Relations.

Currently, Campus Health uses a third-party laboratory service, Labcorp, to process the majority of its test kits. While students have the option of billing this service more surreptitiously into their student account, many students will naturally bill their insurance instead.

Labcorp’s services are not covered by your co-pay at Campus Health, and instead, they will send you or your parents an invoice listing each STI test they have performed on your behalf.

The envelope indicates in large letters “INVOICE INVOICE OPENED IMMEDIATELY” and in much smaller letters “To be opened by recipient only”.

For students whose parents obey federal laws and respect privacy, that’s no problem: all bills will go to the patient in question. However, for the likely majority of students who list their parents’ address on their insurance, it can cause serious problems at home if your parents are unaware that you are engaging in sexual activity.

This problem is not unique to Labcorp; your insurance company can also list the tests performed when sending a claim summary. However, many insurance companies, like North Carolina’s BlueCross BlueShield, will simply note it as lab work and put a digital code in to discreetly identify what tests have been performed.

The problem goes beyond awkward Thanksgiving conversations. When students are afraid to use their health insurance, they don’t get tested as often as they should, with potentially dire consequences for public health.

Fortunately, this third-party confusion will not be a problem for most during the spring semester, when Campus Health hopes its new lab equipment will be up and running. Of course, the new lab equipment won’t be able to test everything under the sun, but it will be quite comprehensive.

Some specialized testing will still have to be done through third-party services like Labcorp, which is inevitable.

This also does not mean that STI testing will necessarily become cheaper; Campus Health will still bill insurers with the option of billing directly to a student account instead. However, this will allow Campus Health to have more control over how invoices are sent and what they say.

This new lab equipment is a big step forward for Campus Health’s investment in STI control and on-campus sex education, but it should go even further. The Student Health Action Coalition, which is led by students from several UNC vocational schools, offers free HIV and STI testing at their weekly clinic in Carrboro.

If students can set up a free clinic to provide testing to community members, then UNC should be able to provide free testing to these students. The free testing would avoid all of the privacy and billing issues created by the current use of third parties like Labcorp.

Infections like STIs are a public health problem, and we need health services to be easily accessible for people to actually use them. Campus Health is more and more accessible, but it still needs work.

@ hatching

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