State of Illinois stops funding free STD testing

More than 100 Illinois jails and health departments received a letter from the Illinois Department of Public Health saying the state will no longer provide them with free tests for sexually transmitted diseases.

The move shifts the burden of paying for the testing to local health departments.

In 2014, state labs tested 119,000 samples for diseases like gonorrhea, chlamydia, syphilis, and HIV. I checked in with Jackson County, which has one of the highest rates for STDs in the state. The county’s health department says it gives out more than 1,000 free STD tests per year. 

The Jackson County Health Department was one of more than a hundred to receive the letter from the state.

"It is just really bad timing when we’re already in a budget crunch," said Paula Clark, the department’s director of HIV services.

Clark says, while it’s bad timing, the cut has nothing to do with the state of Illinois’s budget impasse.

"The state health department had been trying to reduce the workload, so they’re trying to prioritize those tests," Clark said.

She says she doesn’t want people to take the wrong message away from this.

"We still want message to be: It’s extremely important to get tested for STDs," said Clark.

Numbers show that STDs impact people ages 15 to 24 most. The issue is so big in Jackson County that the health department had to build a whole wing dedicated specifically to people with HIV. That’s something Clark says Southern Illinois University plays a part in.

"I believe SIU has higher rates than U of I, some of the other universities," Clark said.

To keep serving the community, the health department will continue giving free tests to high priority groups, like young adults. 

"They’re not stripping away a service that is not already being duplicated in the community," Clark said.

Clark also says there are plenty of other clinics that provide STD tests to patients using their insurance.

The health department says it has separate grants that will help it provide free testing to prioritized groups. The department says when not free, an STD test could cost a person anywhere from $20 to $30.

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