The importance of STD testing cannot be stressed enough, particularly for those who are having unprotected sex with a new partner or with multiple partners. Even patients who are exhibiting no symptoms — or who have a diagnosed STI but who may be at risk for another — need to be tested, as the treatment of one infection will not necessarily address another. At-home STD tests offer the ability to swab and test multiple parts of the body to ensure that bacterial STIs are fully addressed.
“There are many STIs that can occur in areas other than the genitals,” says Michael Ingber, MD, a board-certified urologist and female pelvic medicine specialist at The Center for Specialized Women’s Health in New Jersey. “Most STIs are asymptomatic, which means you can have an STI and spread it to your partner whether you have symptoms or not.”
Every company that facilitates at-home STD testing has its own unique offerings related to sexual health, with most offering kits for:
These tests are considered extremely reliable based on recent innovations in technology.
“Advances in diagnostic technology have resulted in a new generation of STI tests and nucleic acid‐amplified tests (NAATs), which not only offer high sensitivity and specificity but also exquisite sensitivity, making it possible to use non‐invasive or minimally invasive specimens such as urine, vulval or vaginal swabs,” says Dr. Rosanna W. Peeling of the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine. “Studies have shown no difference in detection rates between self‐collected and doctor‐collected vaginal swabs,” making the appeal of at-home testing even greater.
At-Home STD test kits are usually ordered online or via telephone. When ordering, some companies require a virtual medical consultation and charge an associated fee, while others permit kits to be ordered with no consultation. Once you have selected the kit that meets your needs and pay for it, the kit will be sent to you in discreet packaging that includes all of the materials that you need to collect samples and comprehensive instructions for doing so.
Though these results can be printed out and taken to a personal physician, most at-home STD testing companies also provide medical counselors who can provide guidance and treatment options for patients whose test results are positive, and in some cases will write prescriptions for the patient’s partner for an additional fee. This service, which is frequently offered in clinical settings but less often for at-home STD testing, is known as EPT, or Expedited Partner Therapy.
Some STD tests are offered at no charge under the Affordable Care Act, with no cost sharing for those who have health insurance. These include HIV testing for anyone between the age of 15 and 65 and other ages if the patient is at higher risk. Whether health insurance companies will pay for syphilis, chlamydia, or gonorrhea screenings vary based on the specific plan.
Generally speaking, private insurance companies consider STD tests preventive care benefits, and as such they are free with no copay, co-insurance, or out-of-pocket costs, even if the patient has not met their deductible.
ACA coverage for STD testing is specifically classified as preventive screening, which is entirely different from diagnostic testing. When a patient has symptoms that suggest the possibility of an STD, the test is considered diagnostic, and insurance coverage may or may not be available, and if it is provided by your plan it is unlikely to be offered without co-pays or co-insurance.
It is important to note that the cost coverage for these tests does not necessarily extend to tests taken at home, and most at-home STD testing companies do not accept health insurance, requiring direct payment from patients.
For those without private insurance, STD testing is available through free testing centers. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offers a database to help patients locate these sites in their area, and Planned Parenthood provides free testing for those without insurance.
Patients without insurance also have the option of paying out of pocket for STD testing, either through their physician’s office or by using at-home STD testing services.
At-home STD tests generally cost significantly less than the fees charged by being tested at a commercial laboratory, at your physician’s office, or at a clinic, which can easily cost several hundred dollars if paid out-of-pocket. The costs vary depending upon the complexity of the test, as well as by how many STDs or individual tests a single kit contains and whether the patient is paying themselves or using an insurance company.
Most at-home kit companies do not accept insurance at all and charge between $75 and $100 for a single test. Those that do accept insurance offer the choice of paying directly without insurance or charging the patient an initial fee for the kit itself and then billing the insurance company for the additional costs of laboratory analysis. Fees for at-home tests range from as low as $39 to as much as $522.
As is true with almost every medical service or product, the out-of-pocket costs for at-home STD tests depends on whether they are being covered by insurance or not, and by the specific coverage provided by the individual patient’s insurance plan.
These experts contributed information and recommendations for this guide.
Dr. Rosanna W. Peeling, London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine
Michael Ingber, MD, board certified urologist and female pelvic medicine specialist at The Center for Specialized Women’s Health