California becomes first state to require insurance to cover home STI testing
California insurance companies will now be required to cover the costs of home testing kits for sexually transmitted infections, including HIV, syphilis and chlamydia.
Under a bill that took effect earlier this month – the first of its kind in the country – not only will insurance be required to cover the cost of home testing, but the number of healthcare providers who can offering STI testing will be increased, and providers will be required to provide “accelerated partner therapy” or prescribe antibiotics or treatment to the sexual partners of those who test positive for STIs.
The bill, authored by State Sen. Richard Pan (D-Sacramento), a pediatrician, and co-authored by State Sen. Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco), was signed into law by Governor Gavin Newsom ( D) in October. . Pan said the bill was intended to reduce California’s infection rates, which have risen in recent years, by expanding access to testing and treatment options.
According to statistics from the California Department of Public Health, the number of syphilis, chlamydia and gonorrhea infections in California – taken together – increased by more than 62% from 2013 to 2019. Additionally, blockages and COVID-19-related social distancing, as well as reshuffling of some medical staff to prioritize treatment for COVID-19-related illnesses, has made it more difficult for state residents to seek testing for Free or low-cost STIs, especially in rural areas where testing facilities or services may not be as easily accessible.
The bill also requires expectant parents to be screened for syphilis during the first and third trimesters of pregnancy to protect infants from congenital syphilis, rates of which rose 232% in California from 2015. to 2019, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. More than 8% of congenital syphilis cases in the state resulted in stillbirths in 2019, reports Magazine HIV Plus.
Supporters of the law say home testing offers privacy options for people concerned about visiting an STI clinic or talking to health care providers about sexual concerns, and makes it easier people living in rural areas where medical care is not as easily accessible. themselves.
Californians with private insurance can take advantage of coverage immediately, but the out-of-pocket fee — if any — will depend on the type of plan they have, whether their provider is in-network, or whether they fall into a category that makes them eligible for a free screening, reports Kaiser Health News. But those participating in Medi-Cal, California’s Medicaid program, may have to wait for coverage to take effect as the program updates its billing practices, meaning providers may be reluctant to order tests until until these problems are solved.
That said, most health care advocates see the bill as a positive step in addressing rising infections.
In a statement released in October when the bill was signed into law, a coalition of community health and advocacy groups – APLA Health, Black Women for Wellness Action Project, Essential Access Health, Fresno Barrios Unidos, the Los Angeles LGBT Center and the San Francisco AIDS Foundation – hailed the bill as critical to reducing STI rates.
“Over the past six years, STI rates have reached record highs in California,” the statement said. “Rising STI rates have been largely ignored for far too long. STI prevention is a matter of equity. Pre-existing structural barriers to STI treatment and care have only worsened during the COVID-19 pandemic, disproportionately affecting Blacks, Indigenous peoples and people of color, rural areas, young people in California and LGBTQ+ communities. …SB 306 is the bold action California needs to reverse the trend of rising STI rates. The bill aims to expand the tools and resources health providers can use to increase access, reduce STI transmission, and improve health outcomes statewide in partnership with advocates, local organizations and members of the community.
Proponents hope other jurisdictions will soon follow by requiring insurance to cover the costs of testing. Currently, Alabama and the District of Columbia will send free STI kits to residents who request them, but neither jurisdiction requires insurance coverage for them. The National Coalition of STD Directors is sending free kits to people through health departments in Philadelphia, Iowa, Virginia, Indiana, Puerto Rico and Navajo County, Arizona. “I Want the Kit”, a project of Johns Hopkins University, also offers free STI testing kits to residents of Maryland and Alaska.