HIV Van (copy)

One of Palmetto Community Care's HIV tests, which they offer for free, is shown here. The North Charleston agency is one of a handful of places in the area that offers free testing for sexually transmitted infections. File/Brad Nettles/Staff

As the rates of some sexually transmitted diseases have recently risen, clinicians suggest that sexually active adults be screened annually. But health care providers may not always point out the costs for those tests, which can vary by hundreds of dollars depending on the practitioner, or where customers can find them for free. 

For example, the sticker price for a panel of three STD screening tests at the Medical University of South Carolina's primary care clinics is $735. 

But patients without health insurance will only be charged half that amount, a spokeswoman for the hospital said. And patients with health insurance are covered as long as they've met their deductible. 

Meanwhile, at Planned Parenthood in West Ashley, the fee for an uninsured patient to get tested for gonorrhea, chlamydia and syphilis is $95. 

That may not include additional fees for the office visit. The clinic accepts most insurances, including Medicaid.

Price transparency for these STD screening tests has become increasingly important as some strains of STDs are on the rise. 

An antibiotic resistant strain of gonorrhea was reported last year; South Carolina had the ninth-highest rate for that disease of any state in 2016. Then syphilis, long considered to be a disease of the past, increased by about 63 percent between 2010 and 2015, according to information from the state health department. Hepatitis C, too, is increasing in the state.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends annual tests for sexually active adults. And men who have sex with men are supposed to get tested more often.

Most adults will find some help through their health insurance plans. 

BlueCross BlueShield of South Carolina, the state's largest private health insurer, confirmed the company will cover the cost of STD screening after the customer meets their annual deductible. 

But some high deductible plans require patients to spend thousands of dollars out-of-pocket before insurance coverage kicks in. That means some beneficiaries may find themselves having to cover the full cost for an STD screening. 

The good news is free and reduced-price tests are available. The Department of Health and Environmental Control offers testing and customers are charged on a sliding fee scale, based on their income.

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Tommy Crosby, a spokesman for the agency, said no one will be denied a test because of their inability to pay. For example, he said, someone who walks into a clinic with no health insurance coverage at all will not be charged.

People at higher income levels may have to pay a fee.

DHEC also offers free STD, HIV and hepatitis C testing on certain days throughout the year. The next day free testing will be offered to everyone is Dec. 1. 

Meanwhile, Palmetto Community Care in North Charleston offers free tests year-round.

Both DHEC's listings of its public health departments and its testing partners are available on its website,

Reach Mary Katherine Wildeman at 843-937-5594. Follow her on Twitter @mkwildeman.

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