For all sexually active adults, regular screenings for sexually-transmitted infections are an important part of maintaining health, and are typically covered through insurance as part of annual health screenings. When an individual may need more frequent testing, due to exposure, development of symptoms, or other identified medical risk, the cost and lack of convenience of testing can become prohibitive. This is a barrier that USC’s undergraduate student government (USG) is working with USC Student Health to remove.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, 22% of the HIV infection cases diagnosed in 2014 involved individuals ages 13–24. Nationally, sixteen percent of the U.S. population has undergone screening for the Human Immunodeficiency Virus, which can lead to AIDS, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation; but at USC, only seven percent of the student body has undergone screening.
In an effort to improve those numbers and remove any financial or transportation barriers that could deter screening, USG is providing a grant to cover the costs of HIV testing for USC students who face financial barriers; the HIV testing will be provided on campus by USC Student Health at both Engemann and Eric Cohen student health centers, and is available to undergraduate and graduate students.
The program expansion has the potential to particularly improve the health of students in high-risk categories and those on pre-exposure prophylaxis, or PrEP; individuals in these populations are required to undergo more frequent HIV testing, which may not always be covered by insurance.
“We believe STI and HIV testing are primary health resources that should be easily accessible to all students,” says Trenton Stone, USG president. “This is an effective way to keep students healthy, stop the spread of disease, and reduce negative stigmas that exist around both sexual activity and sexually-related diseases.”
The student government-led initiative will be open to all USC undergraduate and graduate students on all insurance plans. On the health care side, doctors at USC Student Health see this as a way to promote testing access and STI awareness among sexually active young adults.
“We want to support any student that comes to us with questions and worries about their health matters,” says Co-Medical Director Dr. Mildred Wenger, “For college populations, when it comes to safe sex and healthy relationships, providing care encompasses listening to the patient, addressing needs with both professionalism and compassion, and ensuring that appropriate follow-up care takes place. Removing financial barriers to testing really amounts to expanding access to medically necessary care—something all of us in clinical care know is a part of creating an ongoing, trusting relationship between providers and patients.”
Students who would like to schedule an HIV test or other STI screening can schedule an appointment with USC Student Health on the MySHR portal or by calling (213) 740-9355 (WELL). Information on insurance billing for HIV testing may be found in the fees and deadlines section of the USC Student Health website.