The fees for an HIV test from the McPherson County Health Department have increased to about $30 since the start of the year.
The Kansas Department of Health and Environment discontinued free processing of the tests Jan. 1 for many medium- to low-incident counties, including McPherson County. The McPherson County Health Department has since negotiated prices with other labs in Kansas and determined an estimated adjusted price to cover additional costs now transferred from the state.
“We want to continue to offer HIV testing services,” McPherson County Health Department director Fern Hess said, adding the office screens about 80 to 90 individuals each year. “I have talked to a lot of my colleagues (in other county health departments) and read articles, and I think everyone who has performed the testing in the past would like to offer that service, and they’ve had to do what we did and seek alternatives.”
This is true despite the little warning the health departments received. They received notification in November and had several weeks amid the holidays to find alternatives, according to the Associated Press.
The county health department previously offered a sliding scale of fees based on income, which gave some individuals free or reduced prices for tests. Now the nearest centers to provide testing at previous rates are Saline and Sedgwick counties.
“I hope it’s not a deterrent for people who are perusing testing,” Hess said. “But it may be for some people, and that’s a concern.”
Hess said options for payment of HIV testing are public insurance, private insurance and out-of-pocket.
She predicts the recent changes will have the largest affect on those who would have to pay the money on their own.
“Obviously any kind of sexually transmitted disease is a concern, and when people don’t know they are infected, they can transmit the disease without ever knowing they have it,” Hess said. “If they are tested because they’re concerned, that might deter the incidence of transmission if they know they’re positive.”
Hess said it is too early to tell if the pricing changes have affected the number of people being tested in McPherson County. The number of people tested fluctuates from year to year, she said.
“I think when decisions have to be made to cut funding, then you have to look at the variables, and statistics are one of those,” Hess said. “I understand their need to implement that based on that information. I don't necessarily agree with it, but I understand it.”
Contact Jenae Pauls at email@example.com and follow her on Twitter @PaulsSentinel