By PETER KRANITZ
DISSATISFIED WITH the high cost of sexually transmitted infection (STI) screening for students at Lewis & Clark, Nora Sackett ’16 has been lobbying for Student Health Services to reduce the price.
So far, Sackett has spoken to the Student Health Advisory Board and the Associate Students of Lewis & Clark (ASLC) Senate, and has started an online petition to get her message out.
Currently, STI screening costs an average of $181.84, according to statistics provided to Sackett by Bess Austin, Director of Student Health Services. It is estimated that in the 2014-2015 school year, STI screenings cost LC students collectively about $27,687.53. In comparison, the Multnomah County Health Department offers STI screening for approximately $20.
Sackett became interested in the cause after working with grassroots organizations supporting women’s reproductive rights in Argentina this past spring.
“I was talking to someone about my time in Argentina and the different organizations I got to work with and I realized that we don’t even have [free STI testing] at LC,” Sackett said.
She also recalled her own experience of going to Student Health Services her freshmen year and being surprised by the cost of STI screening.
“I went in assuming, like most people do, that it’s not going to cost you $200,” Sackett said. “I never went back for that because I didn’t want to deal with [the cost].”
Sackett emphasized that the issue is primarily budgetary, not policy-based.
“The health center does not set the costs,” Sackett said. “They’re not profiting from the costs at all. The costs are completely set by the laboratory that does the actual testing.”
Sackett hopes that the school will be able to subsidize some or all of the testing fee, reducing the cost to students.
Associate Director for Health Promotion Melissa Osmond also hopes to make STI screening more affordable for students, but worries about where the additional funding will be found.
“We in Wellness Services are pretty united in thinking that yes, free STI testing would be a wonderful thing,” Osmond said. “It’s finding the funding and allocating that funding appropriately [that is the issue].”
Osmond emphasizes that the student health insurance provided by LC fully covers the cost of the tests, though “only a fraction of students,” about 30 percent, are on this plan.
She also acknowledged the privacy issues presented by parents viewing their children’s insurance charges.
“I know that can be a challenge for students, especially if their parents are seeing their insurance claims,” Osmond said. “Some students may be reluctant [to be reimbursed by insurance] because they are afraid parents or others may find out.”
Osmond also underscored the affordability of STI screening provided by the Multnomah County Health Department as an affordable alternative to the services provided by LC.
On Oct. 12, Sackett spoke to the Student Health Advisory Board (SHAB), an advising body that helps determine policy related to student health. Sackett was well received, and SHAB discussed a number of possible ways to address the issue.
“The budgeting for next year is happening right now,” Sackett said. “They were talking about what, if anything, could be moved around [in the budget] to defer the cost.”
SHAB also suggested hosting clinics at LC with the Multnomah County Health Department to have inexpensive STI testing periodically available on campus.
Sackett also spoke at the ASLC Senate meeting on Oct. 15 and was once again met with support. The senate offered a number of alternative ways to address the issue, such as fundraising efforts in collaboration with on-campus organizations such as the Feminist Student Union (FSU) and the Rusty Nail Co-op.
“Our role as a body is to inform and to educate, but it’s also to try to resolve these problems,” said Carlton Bone ’17, ASLC Community Service and Relations Coordinator.
Bone also suggested that the ASLC Senate could pass a formal resolution supporting lower cost STI screening.
“Something [the ASLC Senate] is able to do is pass a resolution, which is when ASLC comes out on a certain position,” in this case in support of reduced STI screening costs, Bone said. “What we can do is release a resolution to the administration and the [Oregon] state senate asking for the creation of a fund for sexual health and sexual education.”
Bone posits that this fund can be supported by student body fees at LC or as a statewide fund for all colleges via the state legislature. Bone also suggested that ASLC committees can issue community initiative grants to support projects aimed to raise funds to offset the cost for student STI tests.
“I’ve spoken with a senator who is also a coordinator for the co-op and I will be meeting with the FSU representative for the student government to talk about the Community Service and Relations Committee paying for a bake sale/concert held at the co-op put on by the FSU and student government where all proceeds will go to cover reduced STI testing costs for students,” Bone said.
Despite the bureaucratic and budgetary issues, Sackett is optimistic that she will be able to make a difference not only in the cost of STI testing, but also in the way LC treats sexual health as a whole.
“It’s not about STI testing, it’s about access to reproductive health care,” Sackett said. “It’s about people being able to feel secure in being able to get their reproductive health care without needing to deal with privacy issues or financial issues.”
If students would like to support Sackett’s campaign they can sign her petition to lower the cost of STI testing for LC students. It will be submitted to various LC administrators and can be found online at www.petitions24.com. At the time of writing, the petition had over 200 signatures.