How much does an STD test cost? $0 or $600? One man’s journey, and some prices

Filed Under: Costs, Editor Picks, Patients

(Updated January 2019) An STD test can cost $0, or as much as $600 or more.

How do we know? We did a lot of research. Also … we know a 27-year-old man with a common problem. He’s uninsured, he’s not wealthy, and he wanted to know: How much does an STD test cost?

This man is sexually active, and he recently learned that an ex-girlfriend has been diagnosed with a sexually transmitted disease (STD). Although their relationship ended months ago, he was exposed to chlamydia, which is one of the most common and most treatable STD’s. (Here are the facts about chlamydia, and here’s a fact sheet on all STDs.)

At age 27, this man is no longer eligible for coverage under his parents’ health insurance. This is the first time since the coverage expired that he has needed a doctor. He has a job as a contracted employee that does not offer health insurance, and he has very little cash flow, with rent and basic living expenses taking the bulk of his paycheck.

So he went searching for a place to be tested cheaply. Or even better, free.

STD Test Prices

So how much does an STD screening cost?

At ClearHealthCosts, we have heard about New York STD tests that are free, and also tests ranging from $20 to $1,300.

If a patient visits a clinic for an STD screening, he or she may first have to pay a doctor’s visit fee, which can cost anywhere from nothing to $200. The tests themselves are typically billed by the laboratory that analyzes them, which can be separate from the clinic. But certain clinics will offer some tests at a fixed price. So:

• One clinic in Manhattan offers patients gonorrhea and chlamydia tests for $25.

• Another charges $45 for several STD tests, and no lab fee.

• A third clinic charges $200 to conduct the tests in house and send them to a lab, plus whatever the lab decides to charge to process the results.

• The most expensive one we found, at $1,300, includes a new-patient office visit fee as well as a full STD panel and lab charges — in our research, we include the office visit fee because the office will not do the test without an office visit.

Some places charge less for women than for men.

Here’s a list of STD testing prices in the New York area. Here’s a list of STD testing prices in the Los Angeles area.

Here’s a list of STD testing prices in the Philadelphia area.

Here’s a list of STD testing prices in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.

For other cities, use our search box and the search “STD test.”

Note: We have used the common “STD test,” for sexually transmitted disease, but some places are using the less judgy “STI test,” for sexually transmitted infection.

His search for STD testing

Our young man considered a free clinic at NYU Langone Medical Center in Manhattan, but after a phone call to the clinic, he said he felt it was too impersonal.

“Everybody knows about Planned Parenthood,” was his answer when we asked what came to mind once the free clinic was eliminated from his search. Planned Parenthood is not free, but it’s less costly than some places, and he knew other uninsured people his age who turned to Planned Parenthood for medical testing. (Here’s where to find your nearest Planned Parenthood.)

At Planned Parenthood, he was tested for chlamydia and gonorrhea. (He didn’t know whether he’d been exposed to gonorrhea on top of chlamydia, but he decided to get the test just to be safe.) Cost: $175.

“You just walk in — they give you a blood test and urinalysis,” he said. “If you don’t hear back after a week, that means your test came back negative.” His test was negative.

Our young man suggested that a lot of young people might feel uneasy telling a doctor that they want to be tested for an STD. The reason many uninsured people his age turn to Planned Parenthood, regardless of the cost, is that “they don’t ask questions.”

He had the advantage of knowing which STD he was exposed to. Here’s that fact sheet from the CDC that lists STD’s.

Public health clinics

In many locales, public health clinics will do free or low-cost STD testing, along with other health services.

In New York City, here’s a site for public sexual health clinics.

In Los Angeles, there’s a public health hotline for people to call for information about STD testing. Los Angeles supplies home test kits through this service. Here’s the Los Angeles STD clinics page.

In Des Moines, Iowa, appointments with a public health clinic for same-day STD testing can be made with the Polk County Health Department.

Other cities also supply such services; try Googling (city) public health std test. Be aware that the web sites may be dated, and that many services have been cut back during the pandemic or for budget-cutting reasons.

In-home STD testing

In-home testing may instantly seem attractive, but it raises questions: How accurate are these tests? Are you going to be seen by a doctor and assessed, or will you send samples to someone? What if you collect the sample incorrectly? What happens after you send a sample? How will you be treated? If the treatment doesn’t work, what then? How can you assess the professionalism and performance of an in-home test organization, as opposed to a doctor in your area who you have presumably checked out for recommendations and possibly reviews?

With the rise in telemedicine, particularly during the Covid pandemic, doctoring at a distance is much more common than it once was. And many of these web sites inspire confidence — but there’s a big difference between doing a nice web site and doing actual medical care.

Regulation of online STD testing is inconsistent. In the United Kingdom, an explosion in home STD testing has brought calls for more regulation.

In the United states, the lack of regulation has come to the attention of regulators and medical providers, but there has not been a clear effort to assure the accuracy and general performance of at-home testing.

The services offer very different kinds of results, as this NPR story explains. Here’s one passage: “The idea of online STD testing isn’t new, but most services so far have been localized, limited in test options or still require visiting a lab or pharmacy,” the story says. For example, residents of Alaska, Arizona, Maryland and Oklahoma can request kits to be mailed to them “with self-collection instructions and materials for genital and/or rectal swabs, but only for gonorrhea, chlamydia and trichomoniasis,” via IWTK, a service run by a research lab at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. (It is not uncommon to see a service offered only in a few states because of state regulations on medical care.)

Planned Parenthood has begun offering similar services through an app.

More than a dozen commercial companies nationally let consumers order STD testing kits online for other infections, but buyers may still have to visit a local lab for sample collection. The online businesses aim to offer many more tests without customers needing to go anywhere except the mailbox.

The two business models are subscription-based or one-off orders: Consumers order the test, receive it in the mail, collect their own blood, urine, genital and/or rectal samples, mail samples back in a prepaid envelope and then wait until results are available to check online.

Several companies that once did in-home testing have collapsed or been acquired, and new ones have sprung up. One that remains in business is  myLABbox, which launched in 2013 and charges $369 to $399 for a panel of in-home STD tests. Another, relative newcomer Everlywell, charges $149 for a finger-prick and vaginal swab test for chlamydia, gonorrhea, hepatitis C, HIV, syphilis, trichomoniasis & Herpes simplex virus type 2.

LetsGetChecked has a range of options for STD tests, fro $99 to $249, with “confidential results” in 2 to 5 days. STDCheck has options for individual tests from $24 to $99, and two package test options. NURX has several options; all of them are labeled “$90 with insurance,” but we have questions about that: How can they know in advance? Will you have to pay cash up front and then request payment from your insurer?

Some have better instructions than others; this one from Emory University suggests how easy it can be to go astray.

Follow-up procedures vary: Some say they will have a board-certified doctor call you if your results are positive. For others, positive results “for some tests” include a consultation with a trained doctor or other medical professional in your state — or you can take your results to your own doctor, which sort of negates the value of doing an at-home test.

STD tests: Questions You Can Ask

We don’t give medical advice but we can offer a few tips.

With any testing option, do your homework and shop around. Be careful of what you’re buying and who you’re buying it from. We’ve learned that it pays to find out what specific STD you’ve been exposed to, and to make a few phone calls to clinics.

When you call a clinic, you can:

• Ask to speak to a counselor.

• Ask: How much does each test cost individually?

• Ask: How much for a complete set of tests?

• Ask: Is a complete set of tests necessary, if I know what STD I was exposed to?

• Ask: Who will be seeing me? What are his/her credentials?.

• Ask: Will I have another checkup to be sure that I’m completely healthy?

If you’re using an online service, you can ask the same series of questions, but it’s likely to be harder to get answers. Many of the online services operate on chat bots or order forms, and there’s not a lot of information about how accurate they are.

One, NURX, came under criticism recently for being not especially rigorous about birth control prescriptions. “The company is part of a new wave of start-ups seeking to upend traditional medicine by marketing prescription drugs and connecting people to physicians online who may prescribe them,” The New York Times wrote. “Proponents of the approach say that it can significantly improve access to drugs like birth control pills. But many of these sites’ practices, which merge commerce with medical care in new ways, have raised questions because the companies operate in a regulatory vacuum that could increase public health risks.”

These questions can help you save money and settle your mind.

A Closer Look at One Service

SameDaySTDTesting
We recently heard about a website called SameDaySTDTesting, which breaks down available clinics by state (here’s the New York site). The site touts itself as “The Nation’s #1 STD Testing Company,” so we decided to look into it.

We couldn’t find a lot of information about SameDaySTDTesting. Their Web page isn’t very informative about who they are or where their tests are done. Like every website, they have an official address available through WhoIs, but it shows a generic “DomainsByProxy” address in Arizona.

An interview with a department manager at SameDaySTDTesting said that the difference between them and Planned Parenthood is that they do a “4th generation test.” The manager said this type of test is basically an updated, and more thorough, blood test and a urinalysis. SameDaySTDTesting says their tests cover all the STDs, including HIV and herpes. They also claim to be more comprehensive by taking into consideration the date that the person was exposed. This all comes at a price, though: $325.

I tried to call a second time in order to expand on this information. I wanted to understand their exact procedure once the patient walks in the door, and to learn more about where their laboratory is located. This resulted in a hang-up when I identified myself as a journalist with ClearHealthCosts. A third phone call, in which I asked why they hung up on me, was met with this response: “We’re busy right now, I will transfer you to the person that will handle this.”

“May I have his name?” I asked.

The response: “Ross, that’s all you need to know.” Then I was transferred to five minutes of piped music.

Buyer beware! You have a right to ask these things. If this website calls itself the “#1 STD Testing Company,” yet they are unable to answer basic questions, then would you trust them with personal information like your STD test results?