Do you get stressed out when you think about having a baby? What about when you think about the health care system? Navigating either of these is enough to make most people feel overwhelmed — especially if you're in college, or just starting a new job. But family planning and knowing your contraception options is crucial. Birth control can help you look out for your family, your health, and your future.
There are free and low-cost contraception options for all people in America, but it can be complicated to navigate the system. If you’re not sure where to start to access the budget-friendly birth control, you’re not alone. Luckily, there are organizations and health care clinics around the country that want to make it easier for you.
The first thing you should know is that policies are different depending on what state you live in, so there may not be a one size fits all answer to your questions about accessing affordable contraception. But don’t panic. We want to make this as easy and possible, and so do several organizations fighting for women’s reproductive rights.
However, recent news has added another level of complication. As if the system wasn’t already a tangled web of rules and confusing jargon, things just got a little more complicated with the Trump Administration’s controversial changes to Title X, which is a federal program that offers funding to clinics so they can afford to provide free or low-cost reproductive services to low-income women. These changes make it so health care clinics that provide abortions — or even refer patients for them — can’t receive Title X grants any more. It forced clinics like Planned Parenthood, which relied heavily on that funding, to withdraw from the program altogether on Tuesday. An event that'll impact more than four million people who rely on Title X health centers every year.
Basically, although the news is confusing right now, Planned Parenthood is still there, and you can still contact your local Planned Parenthood health center to find out how much the services you need cost. And — whether you don’t want a baby right now, you don’t ever want kids, or you don’t want any more children — there are some other ways to get the information you need about affordable birth control.
If you don't have insurance:
If you don’t have insurance, or you don’t want to use your parents because you don’t want them to know you’re using birth control, there are options for you. Vacheria Tutson, a reproductive rights and health fellow at the National Women’s Law Center, explains that Planned Parenthood has always been a first stop for people who don’t want to navigate the system. It's still there.
“Despite the fact that the Trump-Pence administration forced Planned Parenthood and other providers out of Title X — the nation’s dedicated program for affordable birth control and reproductive health care — our doors are still open, and they'll be open tomorrow,” Erica Sackin, the senior director of communications at Planned Parenthood Federation of America, told Refinery29 in an emailed statement Tuesday. “Planned Parenthood believes that all people, no matter who they are, where they live, or how much they make, should have access to the full range of birth control methods.”
Ginny Ehrlich, D.Ed, MPH, MS, CEO of Power to Decide, says health centers dropping out of Title X will have to come up with a new sustainable strategy to make up for the grants they’re losing. “This health centers are [dropping out of Title X] because they’re committed to providing comprehensive quality and ethical care,” she says. “And they can’t do so under the new rules."
"They’re now heroically looking for other ways to serve women," Ehrlich continues. "It’s not that all of a sudden all of these health centers won’t be able to support women in need with free or low cost contraception, it’s just that we don’t know how long they’re going to be able to."
Medicaid or a State Program
Tutson also notes there are state programs that may help you get it for free, depending where you live, and you also might qualify through Medicaid.
The Title X Website
Health centers that are still receiving Title X federal funding can also provide you with little-to-no-cost contraception, cancer screenings, and STI testing based on how much you make. Here’s a direct link to search for a Title X center.
If you’re going to just Google “Title X health center,” know there will be some steps. You’ll probably click on the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services page, where you can select the kind of care you're looking for. If you click on pregnancy prevention, then birth control methods, and scroll to the bottom of the page, you can put in your zip code. Or you can just click here for that page. It'll bring you to a website from the Office of Population Affairs. You may need to change the distance settings.
I put in my home address in Iowa, and no centers came up because the site is automatically set to pull up health centers within a 10 mile distance. If you switch it to 25 or 50 miles, more centers come up. Having to do all this clicking can be discouraging. The mileage can be too, especially if you don’t have a car or money for gas to take you those 25 miles.]
That’s where BCBenefits comes in, explains Ehrlich. This is a contraceptive access fund Power to Decide launched, which helps low-income women access contraception. It reimburses them for contraception, as well as transportation to go get it, child care, and unpaid time off work.
Some schools will offer free health care to their students, according to Planned Parenthood. Others require students to be on their own or their parent’s insurance plans. Some charge all students small fees for every visit. But if you go to a religious school, you might not be able to get contraceptives on campus, Tutson explains. In that case, you may need to use one of these other options.
If you don’t have access to the internet, you can call "211." It’s a number the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) reserved to help people connect to organizations they need, including crucial health care services. You can call the line in parts of all 50 states, Washington D.C., and Puerto Rico.
If you have insurance:
A provider in your network
Whether you have insurance through your employer, school, or through Medicaid you got through the Affordable Care Act Marketplace, you can access all 18 Food and Drug Administration-approved methods for free (you won’t pay a copay or deductible!), explains Gretchen Borchelt, vice president for reproductive rights and health at the NWLC.
“Whether it’s the NuvaRing, the patch, the shot, or sterilization if you wanted to get your tubes tied, you qualify for at least one form of all of FDA-approved contraception.
There are a few religious exemptions though. If you happen to be employed by a church, other religious institutions, or other select organizations, you might have to pay out of pocket or use the services mentioned above for people without insurance, depending on your income.
If you now know that you qualify for free birth control, but you got a bill or your pharmacist asked you to pay for it, don’t take it lying down. The NWLC created a phone and email help line called Cover her that can help you fight it. They can help you figure out what you’re owed, and have templates for letters to send to your employer and insurance company to make sure nothing comes out of your pocket.
Although you should have access to at least one form of all the federally approved birth control methods, your insurer could take issue with the specific brand or kind of contraceptive you’re using. If your insurance doesn’t cover say, the specific form of hormonal birth control that works for your body, you can use a medical necessity waiver from the doctor that'll allow you to have that for no out of pocket costs.
Cover Her will help you figure out how to do that.
The bottom line: The system is somewhat complicated, and there are going to be hoops to jump through. However, your health is worth it.