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Column: It’s about time — Campus Health will bring STI testing in-house


Research technician Katherine Sholtis works in the Margolis Lab of the HIV Cure Center in the Genetic Medicine Research Building on Nov. 15, 2018. Photo courtesy of Johnny Andrews/UNC-Chapel Hill. 

The University's Campus Health’s STI testing services have long been a bane for students, especially for those learning about sex, STIs and how health insurance works. 

Thankfully, services will be faster — and potentially more private — after Campus Health purchased new lab equipment that will allow them to conduct on-site testing. 

The lab will be able to test for the full range of common STIs/STDs in addition to rapid flu testing, COVID-19 testing and some other respiratory infections, according to an email from UNC Media Relations.

Currently, Campus Health uses a third-party laboratory service, Labcorp, to process the majority of its testing kits. While students have the option of billing this service more surreptitiously to their student account, many students will naturally bill it to their insurance instead. 

Labcorp’s services are not covered by your copay to Campus Health, and instead they will send you — or your parents — a bill listing every single STI test they ran on your behalf. 

The envelope says in large print, “BILLING INVOICE OPEN IMMEDIATELY,” and in much smaller print, “To Be Opened by Addressee Only.”

For students with parents who obey federal statutes and respect privacy, this is not an issue: all the bills will be addressed to the patient in question. However, for the likely majority of students who list their parent’s address on their insurance, this can cause some serious problems at home if your parents don’t know that you are engaging in sexual activity.

This problem isn’t unique to Labcorp; your insurance company may also list the tests run when it sends a claim summary. However, many insurance companies, like BlueCross BlueShield of North Carolina, will simply note it as lab work and put a numerical code to discreetly identify which tests were conducted.

The issue extends beyond awkward Thanksgiving conversations. When students are scared to use their health insurance, they don’t get tested as often as they should, with potentially dire public health consequences.

Thankfully, this third-party confusion will not be an issue for most come the spring semester when Campus Health hopes its new lab equipment will be operational. Naturally, the new lab equipment will not be able to test everything under the sun, but it will be fairly comprehensive. 

Some specialized testing will still have to be conducted through third-party services like Labcorp, which is inevitable. 

This also doesn’t mean that STI testing will necessarily become cheaper; Campus Health will still bill insurance providers with the option of billing directly to a student account instead. However, it will allow Campus Health to better control how bills are sent and what they say.

This new lab equipment is a big step forward for Campus Health’s investment in addressing STIs and sex education on campus, but it still should go further. The Student Health Action Coalition, which is run by students from several of UNC’s professional schools, offers free HIV and STI testing at their weekly clinic in Carrboro. 

If students can set up a free clinic to provide testing to community members, then UNC should be able to provide free testing to these students. Free testing would sidestep all of the privacy and billing issues created by the current use of third parties like Labcorp. 

Infections like STIs are a public health issue, and we need health services to be easily accessible in order for people to actually use them. Campus Health is getting easier to access, but it still needs work.


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