While appointments at Decker Student Health Services Center are covered by Binghamton University’s student health fee, laboratory testing, including tests for sexually transmitted diseases and infections, is not, posing a potential cost barrier for students looking to get routine exams.
The center currently has a contract with United Health Services (UHS), a regional health services provider, for all laboratory testing. Students can pay for testing through insurance, but many opt to pay out-of-pocket because they are not insured or because they hope to keep their parents from seeing details of their testing. The center began offering daily HIV tests for students and extended STI appointments for asymptomatic students in fall 2018.
Richard Moose, medical director of Decker Student Health Services Center, wrote in an email that those in a monogamous relationship should get tested for gonorrhea, chlamydia and HIV once a year. For those who are seeing multiple partners, Moose recommends getting tested two to three weeks after every new partner.
But doing so can come with a hefty price tag. According to Moose, the average out-of-pocket cost of a singular swab test is $200. Each additional swab costs additional money, so if a student requests testing for multiple areas of potential infection, such as the anus and genitals, the cost could total $400.
Even students paying through insurance may see high costs for testing. Some insurance plans cover diagnostic testing for sexually transmitted diseases and infections for those with symptoms, but not will not cover routine screenings for students who are asymptomatic. Additionally, plans often do not cover the full cost of laboratory testing, requiring students to pay a copay.
According to Moose, the costs of testing prevent some students from checking themselves for sexually transmitted diseases and infections annually, as recommended. Of the 657 responses to this particular question on Pipe Dream’s sex survey, 46.6 percent of respondents said they have never been tested, and just 15.8 percent said they are tested regularly. Moose said when he worked as a medical professional at SUNY Potsdam, the price of testing was approximately $25, and the SUNY Potsdam Student Association paid all but $5 of each test.
“We see an awful lot of people who have never been tested,” Moose said. “We see an awful lot of people who come in to get tested and decide not to have it done because of the expense. The problem we have here is the expense. Access was the first barrier, so we addressed access, and now we have to address how much it costs.”
This spring, the center will be going out to bid for a potential new laboratory contract with a different local health services provider. Moose said lowering the expense of STI testing will be one of the center’s focuses when looking for a new contract. If the price of testing is reduced, the Student Association may be able to subsidize the cost of testing.
Student Association President Jerry Toussaint, a senior majoring in philosophy, politics and law, wrote in an email that he previously met with Moose to discuss the possibility of subsidizing the laboratory costs of STI and disease testing, but that the testing was simply too expensive.
“Dr. Moose and I have put this conversation on hold until he could possibly negotiate the price to be dropped to no more than $30 per test,” Toussaint wrote. “If this cannot be done, then the Student Association unfortunately cannot subsidize these tests. ”
Moose said he hopes a higher volume of tests sent to the lab will offset the cost of lowering the price of the test itself, providing an incentive for UHS or future contracting labs to give students a reduced price. In the meantime, those who cannot afford laboratory testing through the center can visit the Broome County Health Department, located on Front Street, or Family Planning of South Central New York, located on Hawley Street, both of which offer testing regardless of how much students can pay.