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Credit: Joy Lee

Student Health Service has administered tests for sexually transmitted infections for years, but some students see the lack of privacy and the cost of certain screenings as barriers to getting themselves tested.

Executive Director of SHS Giang Nguyen acknowledged that this issue of privacy can be worrisome for students, but said there are certain ways that SHS can protect students' privacy from parents. 

Nguyen said that if students using outside insurance providers were to get tested, their insurance companies would have to inform the policyholders of the exact charge on the statement. In most cases, these policyholders are the students' parents, who would then be notified of any testing done.

Students also have the option of having SHS bill them for the cost of screenings and evaluations directly, without coverage from insurance. This would then just appear as a general “health service fee” on their University Bursar accounts, which handle student billing information.

For students on the Penn Student Insurance Plan, the insurance statements also would not reveal the exact reason for the health charge. 

As of now, SHS covers free HIV testing, but charges when testing for gonorrhea, syphilis, chlamydia, and herpes, as well as less common examinations for Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C. The results are sent to external labs and then returned to SHS — a process that generally takes only a couple of days. 

Despite the variety of testing options, one Nursing sophomore, who requested to remain anonymous out of fear of parental repercussions, said that she has not gotten an appointment at SHS because she is concerned that the STI evaluation charge will be revealed on her mother’s insurance billing information. 

She added that she was discouraged from paying directly after hearing from friends that the total cost for examinations at SHS can range from $10 to $30. But when she looked for other resources, such as the local Planned Parenthood, the costliness was again a factor in preventing her from making an appointment, placing her in a tough situation.   

“I feel like there should be some type of help for people who don’t want to use their parent’s money to buy these tests or can’t afford to," the student said. 

In an emailed statement, Nguyen wrote that "SHS is working on some plans for an initiative that can help improve access to STI testing, but that’s not ready for discussion yet."

He did not respond to further questions on the initiative.

Another Nursing sophomore, who wishes to remain anonymous, had been tested for chlamydia and gonorrhea while covered by an outside provider. She said that for her, privacy was not an issue, even though she acknowledged her parents would see the charge. 

"Overall, I think it's as secure as it can be," she said. "While it would be nice if nothing showed up [on the insurance statement], they can't do that, so I feel like under the circumstances they keep it as private as possible." 

At other universities, such as Yale University, STI testing is free to all students. Cornell University also offers free testing for students at its health center, Cornell Health. 

Nguyen said that he believes SHS has addressed the issue of cost rather well.

“I think we’ve been very successful in terms of getting that price much lower than a lot of other places would be able to do because of our relationships with the external laboratories,” Nguyen said. “So we do have a cost to [the examinations], but it’s as low as is feasible.”

Nguyen also emphasized that there is a great need for students to be tested.

“The majority of sexually transmitted infections do not have any symptoms at all,” Nguyen said. “That’s where screening comes into play and is a very important way to stay healthy.”

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