Dear Dr. Wes and Kendra: I am trying to take your advice and get any partner I have sex with tested beforehand. But when I went to the doctor they said it would cost $199 and insurance won’t cover it unless I have symptoms. I’m like, seriously? I have to get something first before I can get tested? How does that make sense?
Kendra: First of all, kudos to you for demanding safe sex and shame on insurance companies for refusing to encourage positive health behavior, especially when it could save them money in the long run. So no, it doesn’t make sense.
Your biggest obstacle is that you’re looking for help in all the wrong places. Doctors’ offices don’t really focus on testing for STIs. But there are many other resources that do. Here in Lawrence, the Douglas County AIDS Project (DCAP) does HIV testing for free. The Lawrence-Douglas County Health Department offers a basic STD screening, which includes an examination and testing for chlamydia and gonorrhea, syphilis, and HIV for $71. For teens under 18 looking to get tested, most service providers, including DCAP, protect confidentiality and do not require parental permission for testing.
And why do they offer these services for so little money? They agree with you; you shouldn’t need to have symptoms of an STI before you get tested. Their aim is to eliminate the spread of STIs as well as curbing the stereotypes surrounding those who have them.
Despite these alternative ways to get tested, doctors’ offices and insurance companies are truly doing society a disservice by hindering teens’ and adults’ attempts to practice safe sex.
Wes: For anyone who wasn’t persuaded over the last couple of weeks, your letter makes the point that government isn’t useless nor is it an inflatable Uncle Sam looking under your hospital gown. Ew. Who would even think up such an image, anyhow?
Kendra is right, for the full scope of STI testing our local, tax-funded health departments have been carrying the load for years now, despite budget cuts. They also provide vital family planning services for people who take seriously the prospect of having a child they aren’t prepared to raise.
When I contacted her, Susan McDaniel of our local health department added to Kendra’s points. Like most public health clinics, they offer contraception and STI testing on a sliding scale based on income. And if you can’t come up with the cash, they’ll offer a payment plan. No matter what, the department will not refuse services if a client is unable to pay. It is as Kendra said: their mission to prevent further infection.
The best news is that you do not have to disclose any income but your own. So if you’re 16 and make $8 an hour, that’s the only income they’ll be looking at — not your parents’ or your partner’s. It doesn’t matter if your folks declare you on their income tax. And since there’s no bill going to insurance, no one will be the wiser.
The department also wants you to know that they do prevention counseling at every visit, so if you haven’t been reading our columns imploring you to practice safe sex and avoid pregnancy, they’ll be happy to cover that in detail. Besides, where this topic is concerned, there’s no such thing as too much education.
In my view, this is a great couple’s activity. Think about it. There’s only one thing less sexy than doing STI testing together: finding out you’ve caught something from your awesome new partner — or given him or her something you didn’t know you had. I don’t care how old you are, if you’re old enough to be having sex, you’re old enough to be doing it with dignity and respect for yourself and your partner. That means abandoning your fears, opening up communication and visiting the nice people at your local health clinic.
So there you have it — super low-cost testing compliments of the taxpayers, who should be thankful it’s there for you. That said, I’d like to put in a good word for paying what you can. Society has an investment in keeping you disease free and childless until you choose to become a parent. But so do you. How about we do our part and you do yours?
— Wes Crenshaw, Ph.D., ABPP, is author of “Dear Dr. Wes: Real Life Advice for Teens” and “Real Life Advice for Parents of Teens.” Learn about his new practice Family Psychological Services at dr-wes.com. Kendra Schwartz is a Lawrence High School senior. Send your confidential 200-word question on adolescence and parenting to firstname.lastname@example.org. Double Take opinions and advice are not a substitute for psychological services.