With the new year comes a new law. California became the first state to require health insurance plans to cover home testing for sexually transmitted infections (STIs), like HIV, syphilis, gonorrhea and chlamydia. This is the latest effort to deal with a continued increase in STIs nationwide that has only worsened amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
The law, SB 306, went into effect on January 1, but it is so new that testing billing practices have yet to be updated. As a result, Kaiser Health News reports in the Los Angeles Times, many providers may not order the tests for a year.
“This is the first law of its kind, and I would say it is state of the art,” Stephanie Arnold Pang, senior director of policy and government relations for the National Coalition of STD Directors, told Kaiser Health News. . âWe want to remove all the barriers so that someone can take an STI test, and the direct cost is a huge factor. “
Home testing also provides privacy for those concerned about visiting an STI clinic or talking to a health care provider about sexual issues. In addition, home kits make it easier for people in rural areas to get tested.
The new law aims to tackle the STI crisis in four ways:
- Require health plans to cover home testing kits for HIV and STIs;
- Increase the number of providers who can offer STI tests;
- Promote accelerated partner therapy, which means that patients can quickly get STI treatment for their partners;
- Require screening for syphilis in the first and third trimester of pregnancy.
STI rates have skyrocketed across the country over the past six years, including in California. For example, syphilis has increased nationwide, from 74,709 cases in 2015 to 129,818 cases in 2019, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In California, the numbers fell from 14,449 to 28,812 during the same period.
Alarmingly, rates of congenital syphilis, which contracts in the womb and can have devastating effects on the health of children, have increased since 2015. California reported 445 cases in 2019, a 232% increase from compared to 2015, including 37 stillbirths.
“We have children born in California with syphilis,” Richard Pan (D-Sacramento), the pediatrician and senator who drafted the law, told the news service. âYou would think that was gone in the Victorian era. “
In a press release issued when Gov. Gavin Newsom signed SB 306, Pan added, âSTI rates across the country have reached crisis levels, and this has worsened as a strain of antibiotic-resistant gonorrhea has spread across the country.
At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, many clinics that offered STI testing closed their doors, meaning fewer people were tested. Additionally, many healthcare workers who previously offered testing and treatment for STIs have pivoted in 2020 to devote their time and energy to COVID-19 issues.
The California bill was co-sponsored by APLA Health, the Black Women for Wellness Action Project, Essential Access Health, Fresno Barrios Unidos, the Los Angeles LGBT Center, and the San Francisco AIDS Foundation. They issued the following statement:
âThe rising rates of STIs have been largely ignored for too long. Prevention of STIs is a matter of equity. Pre-existing structural barriers to STI treatment and care have only worsened during the COVID-19 pandemic, disproportionately affecting black people, Indigenous people and people of color, rural areas, young people in California and LGBTQ + communities. Factors related to the social determinants of health contribute to disparities in STI rates, including inequitable access to safe, culturally appropriate and culturally appropriate health, mental health and addiction treatment services. quality, as well as high rates of incarceration, lack of access to economic mobility and educational opportunities, adequate housing, racial segregation and racism.
âSB 306 is the bold action California needs to reverse the trend of rising STI rates. The bill seeks to expand the tools and resources that health providers can use to increase access, reduce transmission of STIs, and improve health outcomes statewide in partnership with advocates, local organizations and members of the community.
âWe commend Dr. Pan for his leadership in introducing this comprehensive and robust approach to STI prevention, and thank Governor Newsom for signing this important step into state law. California will once again be at the forefront of innovation and best practice in STI prevention and care, and will serve as a role model for other states to follow. “
In related news: Non-California residents seeking home testing may be eligible for a free STI and HIV kit from TakeMeHome. To learn more about the STI epidemic, click on the hashtag #Sexually transmitted infection and you will find a collection of POZ articles including: