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Getting prescription birth control

It’s effective—but is it cost-effective? In the long run, the most affordable birth control method may surprise you.

The most effective methods of birth control tend to be those that you have to visit a doctor or clinic to get. Of those, the pill is the most popular in the United States, but that doesn’t mean it’s a bargain in the long run. For women who know that they don’t want to have a baby for at least a few years—you’re in school, starting a career, or are just not ready—an IUD, the shot, or the implant can save you a bundle of money. Once these methods are in place, you don’t have to worry about them for months or even years. That means no more “oops” moments, plus greater spontaneity in your sex life.

While the price of some of those long-acting methods may seem high in the short term, lots of private insurers cover them for just a co-payment. Or you may be able to go directly through the manufacturer and pay for them in installments. Bust out a calculator and compare: A woman without insurance using generic birth control pills will typically pay about $25 a month. That’s $300 a year. The Mirena IUD can cost $550 up front, but it keeps you pregnancy-free for up to five years—saving you $1,000 compared to the pill. (The ParaGard IUD lasts even longer, saving you as much as $2,500.) Without insurance, Implanon can cost from $480 to $600 up front, but it’s good for three years—a $300 to $420 savings compared to the pill. The savings are even greater when compared to brand-name pills.

Basically two things will affect the costs of your birth control: where you live and whether you have health insurance. If you don’t have insurance through your job or a family member’s job, you may be eligible for Medicaid (the federal health insurance program for people with low incomes--more people qualify than they think, so check it out). There’s some variation from state to state, but in most states if you qualify for basic Medicaid you can get most types of birth control for free. You can find out if you’re eligible here. You can find out more about the birth control methods your state covers under Medicaid here.

Even if you don’t qualify for basic Medicaid, you may be able to get free or very low-cost birth control if you live in a state that has something called Medicaid family planning waivers. (Click here to see your state.) Some doctors and clinics accept Medicaid and some don’t, so make sure you double check before making an appointment.

Separately, many clinics get what is called Title X (as in ten) funding that allows them to provide a wide range of free or low-cost contraception, depending on how much money you make. So when you’re shopping around for a clinic or gynecologist, ask if you qualify for one of these programs to lower your birth control costs. Not every doctor participates in these programs, so if yours doesn’t, you could ask them to recommend one that does.

If you have private health insurance, it will usually reduce the cost of your birth control, sometimes to no more that the price of your co-pay, which for most people ranges from $5 to $25. (Keep in mind that some clinics and doctors don’t accept private insurance, so make sure to call first.) Twenty-seven states require insurers to cover all birth control methods (although 23 do not.)

If your insurance doesn’t cover your method, ask your employer’s HR department why not and urge them to do so. It could just be an oversight, or maybe nobody’s ever asked…and remember, it’s a lot cheaper to cover birth control than to cover an unplanned pregnancy! (While it’s less common these days, some insurers have covered Viagra, but not birth control pills. Why did that change? Because women and their advocates spoke up for fairness in what insurance companies covered.)

Many insurers and pharmacies offer programs where you can sign up online or send in to get routine prescriptions mailed directly to your home. It’s convenient and sometimes cheaper in the long run. In addition, some workplaces allow you to set aside part of your salary before taxes for health care expenses (usually called Flexible Spending Accounts). That saves you money because the taxman won’t touch the part of your paycheck that you spend on meds.

If you don’t have health insurance, clinics like Planned Parenthood, your city or county health department, or a community health center are a good way to go. (Need to find a clinic near you? We can help with that.) Some (but not all) of those clinics are Title X clinics, and offer a wide range of free or low-cost birth control options for women who don’t earn a lot of money. Many of them also accept Medicaid. Ask the clinic which method will be most effective for you and save you the most money in the long run. If they don’t have it on hand, they may be able to order it for you. It may also be available directly from the manufacturer for less money than you’d think. (See individual methods below.)

Pharmacies like CVS and Rite-Aid have discount prescription programs open to anyone, and using their mail-order on online services can cut costs even further. And a group called the Partnership for Prescription Assistance helps people without insurance get prescriptions for no or little cost. Contact them at 1-888-4-PPA-NOW (1-888-477-2669) or online.

In all cases, it’s always smart to call your doctor’s office or health care clinic before your appointment to sound out the staff about bringing down the price of your birth control. Explain to staffers what kind of insurance you have, and roughly how much money you make. Ask about Medicaid and payment plans the clinic or the birth control manufacture might offer, or whether another clinic might be able to offer you a lower price.

Want more info on a specific method? Check out the following pages for more on the costs of prescription methods:

I really enjoy the frisky friday articles and the Bedsider concept. The fact that so much is done to cover birth control and only a few reminders here and there are mentioned to use condoms to protect yourself from STD's STI's AID/HIV. Seems like a simple rule, if you talk about birth control talk about getting tested and disease control. Having good sex is healthy, fun, and exciting. Knowing your health status is important. Get tested. Using birth control is a good thing for piece of mind. Protecting yourself against diseases is a simple method of protecting your future. Having a partner (permanent or not) that respects your right to a healthy future is a must.

2011-10-24 22:52:40 UTC


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