Updated: University of Michigan backtracks on STI test coverage

An STI test at the medical clinic on Ellsworth Air Force Base, South Dakota | U.S. Air Force photo
Updated, 8:27 p.m., 9/6/19

The University of Michigan has reportedly reversed course on covering students’ sexually transmitted infections (STIs) tests.* 

After the university enacted a new policy that STI testing through University Health Services (UHS) was no longer covered by tuition costs, E. Royster Harper, vice president of Student Life, and UHS Executive Director Robert Ernst sent an email on Friday that student protests had caused them to reconsider the measure, the Michigan Daily reported.*

University of Michigan | Ken Lund, Flickr

The UHS rolled out a new policy on July 15 announcing all laboratory testing, X-rays, ultrasounds and allergy injections will be billed to students’ personal insurance. This means all costs not covered by the students’ or their parents’ insurance plans will be paid out-of-pocket. 

Previously, the service was covered by a health service fee of $199 that was included in the tuition billed each term for all full-time and part-time students. 

According to a UHS memo, the purpose of the policy change is to keep the health service fee from rising. 

In the 2019 fiscal year, the total costs for lab tests was $681,000. The Michigan Daily reported approximately $300,000 of UHS laboratory costs each year were due to STI testing. 

In the Fiscal Year 2020 UHS proposed budget approved in June 2019, the health service fee did not change — despite cutting STI tests and other services. The school year’s budget is making room for mental health services, increased clinical and administrative support for the UHS Convenience Clinic and an additional sports medicine provider, according to the budget proposal. 

University of Michigan | Creative Commons

“It is projected that these new initiatives would be entirely supported by cost reductions and increased revenues,” the budget proposal states. 

According to the budget, the reduction of lab expenses due to the policy change is saving the university roughly $200,000.

Currently a petition, started by a group called Sexual Health at Michigan, is circling the university. The petition encourages students and advocates to help reinstate STI screenings in UHS coverage and email the university President Mark Schlissel. At the time of publication, the petition had gathered 5,052 signatures in two days. 

“For an institution that has its own School of Public Health, this decision ironically aligns the University of Michigan with regressive forces attacking public health in this country,” Sexual Health at Michigan wrote in the petition’s call to action.

“This does not ‘save’ costs, it dramatically increases them — those costs are simply transferred to our most vulnerable and marginalized students.”

For students concerned about cost issues or privacy, the UHS listed some alternatives to avoid their parents’ ability to see an explanation of benefits from the insurance company.

Students may make payment arrangements with the UHS patient billing office on the same day that the tests are ordered and performed, and must complete the payment within 30 days. Health services estimates an STI test typically costs about $65.

Students may also charge fees over $10 to their student account, which will not list any details other than the total cost of service at UHS. 

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This change comes just two weeks after Planned Parenthood withdrew from Title X, a federal family planning program, after the President Trump administration barred clinics from giving abortion provider referrals. 

That could impact more than 1.5 million low-income women, including students, who use health care providers for family planning services, including birth control, pregnancy tests and STI screening.

On Friday evening, Hoai An Pham, a U of M student and advocate for STI testing coverage, tweeted, “STI coverage has been reinstated in UHS student healthcare. Organizing works.”

The Advance reached out to UHS and university public relations representatives, but could not confirm the tweet. 

Allison Donahue
Allison Donahue covers education, women's issues, LGBTQ issues and immigration. Previously, she was a suburbs reporter at the St. Cloud Times in St. Cloud, Minn., covering local education and government. As a graduate of Grand Valley State University, she has previous experience as a freelance researcher for USA Today and an intern with WOOD TV-8. When she is away from her desk, she spends her time going to concerts, comedy shows or getting lost on hikes in different places around the world.

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