home comforts

California just did something big for the sexual health of its residents

A gay couple hug in a park
Posed by models (Photo: Shutterstock)

California has made it easier for residents to undertake home STI testing. It’s mandated that medical insurance plans cover the costs of home STI testing.

This means that instead of going to a clinic, those in California will—soon—be able to test themselves at home.

The move comes following a dramatic rise in sexually-transmitted infections in recent years. STIs have risen across the US, but particularly so in California.

In 2019, the last year for which data is available, there were 28,846 cases of syphilis in the state (349% more than 10 years ago), 80,599 cases of gonorrhea (236% more than 10 years ago) and 237,630 cases of chlamydia (a 61% increase from ten years ago).

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The new law, part of the broader Senate Bill 306, took effect from January 1 for those with state-recognized private medical insurance. It will take effect at a later date for those on Medicaid (Medi-Cal).

“This is the first law of its kind, and I’d say it’s kind of cutting-edge,” Stephanie Arnold Pang, senior director of policy and government relations for the National Coalition of STD Directors, told the LA Times. “We want to bring down every single barrier for someone to get STI testing, and out-of-pocket cost is a huge factor.”

Although the new law came into effect on January 1, those wanting to take advantage of it will still have to wait a while. The home testing kits are still pending approval by federal regulators. Also, an analysis of the law change warns that health care providers may take some months to update their practices and billing.

SB 306 was signed into law by Governor Gavin Newsom last October. Among the organizations to sponsor the legislation were APLA Health, the Los Angeles LGBT Center and the San Francisco AIDS Foundation.

In a joint statement, those organizations said, “For the past six years, STI rates have reached record highs in California. The signing of SB 306 is a critical and important step in addressing this ongoing public health crisis and achieving greater health equity statewide … SB 306 is the bold action California needs to turn the tide on rising STI rates.”

SB 306 was authored by Senator Dr. Richard Pan (D-Sacramento). Upon its signing, Pan said, “STI rates across the country have reached crisis levels and it has become worse as an antibiotic-resistant strain of gonorrhea spread across the country.”

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The HIV & Aging Act

Besides SB 306, another California law coming into effect on January 1 was SB 258, the HIV & Aging Act. Authored by gay state Senator John Laird (D-Santa Cruz), it adds older people with HIV to the population deemed to be at “greatest social need”. This gives priority access to programs and services offered by the California Department of Aging.

Equality California was among several organizations to sponsor SB 258. Its Legislative Director Tami A. Martin said in a statement, “After surviving the darkest days of the AIDS epidemic, many Californians living with HIV are now over the age of 50, but in dire need of support. Thanks to Governor Newsom, Senator Laird, and HIV advocates, the Golden State will now make sure that our elders living with HIV have access to food assistance, job training, transportation, or any other vital services.”