Dr. Richard Pan Introduces Comprehensive Measure to Curb Historically High STD Rates

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Essential Access Health is proud to serve as a co-sponsor of SB 306 to improve health outcomes + advance health equity in California

SACRAMENTO – New data released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that 1 in 5 people in the U.S. have an STD. Long before the COVID-19 public health emergency, sexually transmitted disease (STD) rates reached historic highs and epidemic proportions in California and nationwide. The STD crisis has been exacerbated during the pandemic with reduced testing and shortages in testing supplies – disproportionately impacting Black, Indigenous and people of color, California youth, and gay, bisexual, and transgender people.

Dr. Richard Pan, a pediatrician and State Senator representing the Sacramento region, has introduced SB 306, the STD Coverage and Care Act to strengthen California’s public health infrastructure and expand access to STD coverage and care to improve health outcomes and create a more equitable health system.

“Before the pandemic, STD infection rates across the country had reached crisis levels and it has become worse as an antibiotic-resistant strain of gonorrhea has spread across the country,” said Dr. Pan. “I am proud to be partnering with such a strong coalition of community health organizations on SB 306 to stop STDs by strengthening public health and expand access to STD diagnosis and treatment.”

The CDC estimates that there are approximately 20 million new STD infections each year. If left undetected and untreated, STDs can lead to serious, long-term health problems including infertility, cancer, and blindness. In 2018, more than 329 babies were born with congenital syphilis in California and there were 20 stillbirths associated with the disease. More than 100 babies were born with congenital syphilis in Los Angeles County alone in 2020. The cost of STDs to the U.S. health care system is estimated to be as much as $16 billion annually. Approximately $1 billion is spent annually statewide on health costs associated with STDs.

To address historically high STD rates in California, SB 306will:

  • Ensure no-cost STD care for uninsured, low-income LGBT Californians
  • Increase access to STD testing through coverage of home-test kits and expanding the health workforce that can conduct rapid STD tests in the community
  • Update current laws to increase utilization+ delivery of evidence-based prevention practices
  • Expand congenital syphilis testing requirements

Senator Scott Weiner is the bill’s principal co-author. Bill co-sponsors include APLA Health, Black Women for Wellness Action Project, Essential Access Health, Fresno Barrios Unidos, Los Angeles LGBT Center, and the San Francisco AIDS Foundation.

“California is facing an out-of-control STD crisis that was raging even before the COVID pandemic. Now, following nearly a year of stay-at-home orders, we have mounting evidence that the state’s STD epidemic has grown even worse,” said APLA Health Chief Executive Officer Craig E. Thompson. “STDs are still on the rise, testing and treatment services are in short supply, and more serious cases of STDs are beginning to emerge. SB306 is a comprehensive proposal that will strengthen California’s public health infrastructure and expand access to STD testing and treatment at a time when it is most desperately needed. APLA Health is proud to partner with Senator Pan on this critical legislation.”

“For the last 20 years, California has been quietly fighting a battle to address soaring STD rates with one hand tied behind our backs,” said Nourbese Flint, Executive Director of Black Women for Wellness Action Project. “This bill expands the tools and resources that advocates and health providers can use to confront this epidemic that disproportionately impacts black and brown young women. We applaud Senator Pan for taking on this issue and introducing such an important piece of legislation.”

“Bold action is urgently needed to combat skyrocketing STD rates, improve health outcomes, and achieve greater health equity in our state,” said Sergio Morales, Associate Vice President of Programs at Essential Access Health and leader of the organization’s STD Prevention Center. “This preventable public health crisis has been ignored for far too long. We thank Senator Pan for leading the way forward. Together we can and must make the promise of SB 306 a reality for Californians in need of STD coverage and care without delay.”

"This bill will expand considerable access to rural areas of our State, especially the Central Valley, where health services are few and far between – often more than 20-30 miles between clinics,” said Marissa Corpus, Health Education Manager, Fresno Barrios Unidos. “Expanding coverage to STD care is a step toward healthcare equity and opens up medical pathways for our un- and under-insured communities, specifically immigrant, LGBTQ, and young people."

“California's STD epidemic is a public health crisis that disproportionately impacts marginalized communities, including LGBT people,” said Los Angeles LGBT Center CEO Lorri L. Jean. “SB 306 will ensure that LGBT people have increased access to STD testing and treatment and is a crucial step forward in ensuring that California can and will end the STD epidemic. We commend Dr. Pan for introducing SB 306, his continued leadership on the issue, and for being a champion for our community. We are proud to stand with him.”

“Allowing HIV counselors to perform rapid STD tests is a commonsense, practical solution to getting more people tested and treated for STDs. This legislation will help California address its STD epidemic by ensuring that people of color, LGBTQ+ individuals, young people, women, and other communities experiencing high rates of infections can access HIV, HCV, and STD testing from a singular, properly-trained test counselor in a safe and trusted setting. We applaud Senator Pan for his commitment to ending the sexual health crisis in the state and look forward to partnering on this legislation.” Joe Hollendoner, CEO of San Francisco AIDS Foundation.