Spending

5 tips for buying affordable birth control even if your employer doesn't cover it

A Supreme Court ruling says employers are not obligated to cover birth control costs if they object for religious or moral reasons. Here's how to get affordable coverage.

Twenty/20

On Wednesday, the Supreme Court upheld a regulation that employers could limit an employee's access to birth control for moral or religious reasons. The ruling could result in 126,000 women losing their coverage, according to an analysis by The New York Times.

Even before this ruling, many women experienced confusion or difficulty getting the specific type of birth control they needed at a low cost, says Tori Marsh, health insights analyst at GoodRx. "A common question [from women] is how to afford it," Marsh says.

"A lot of women are used to getting their birth control for free or a very low copay," she adds, but if their insurance coverage changes, or the price of the brand-name version increases, "they are kind of shocked at the pharmacy when they see these out-of-pocket costs." 

Birth control pills, on average, are between $0 and $50 per monthly pack, according to Planned Parenthood. The price can depend on what brand you get and how much insurance coverage you have. 

A majority of women say they would not be able to afford their birth control if the price exceeded $20 per month, according to a Guttmacher Institute survey. Here at five tips for getting a low price on birth control, even if you don't have insurance.

Tell your doctor your budget 

"I always recommend people go to their doctors and have an open dialogue about how much they want to spend," Marsh says. 

Doctors might know more about drug options and prices than you do, so if you're honest about what your budget is, they might be able to point you in the direction of more affordable choices or know of certain drugs that have good generic forms, which are often cheaper than brand-name options. 

I always recommend people go to their doctors and have an open dialogue about how much they want to spend.
Tori Marsh
health insights analyst at GoodRx

Buy generic 

A generic drug is created to be the same as a brand-name drug in "dosage form, safety, strength, route of administration, quality, performance characteristics, and intended use," according to the Federal Drug Administration website.

"These similarities help to demonstrate bioequivalence, which means that a generic medicine works in the same way and provides the same clinical benefit as its brand-name version," the FDA website says

For the pill, at least, there are many options, says Dr. Davis Liu, chief clinical officer at telemedicine provider Lemonaid Health. "Birth control [pills] are generally affordable as there are a lot of generics available," he says.

For example, if you are prescribed Loestrin and live in Dallas, the cost at Costco without insurance would be $151.89 per pack, according to drug price comparing site Community Cares FX. But, the generic brand is only $23.30. If you are prescribed a NuvaRing, you can get the generic version for $114.87, about $60 less than the brand-name version. 

However, some birth control options do not have a generic form yet, such as IUDs. 

Price compare different pharmacies 

"What a lot of people don't realize is prescription price can vary pharmacy to pharmacy," Marsh says. Sites like GoodRx or Community Cares RX are good for seeing which pharmacy near you will charge the least for your medication. 

For example, if you live in Chicago, you can get a generic form of Loestrin for $23 per pack at Osco Drug, according to Community Cares RX. But at CVS pharmacy, it would only cost you $17. Over a year, you could save $80 by buying your prescription at CVS instead of Osco. 

Price comparison apps, like GoodRx and SingleCare, often also have coupons you can download to get discounts on prescriptions from a wide range of pharmacies. 

What a lot people don't realize is prescription price can vary pharmacy to pharmacy.
Tori Marsh
health insights analyst at GoodRx

There are also 11 states where the pharmacy itself can prescribe birth control, meaning you don't have to obtain a prescription from a doctor. "The medical evidence is pretty clear that it's safe to do it over the counter," Luis says. Many countries outside the U.S. don't require women to have a doctor's note at all. 

States where pharmacists can prescribe birth control include California, Oregon, Idaho, and Utah, according to the National Alliance of State Pharmacy Associations

Make a telehealth appointment 

Telemedicine is the remote diagnosis and treatment of illnesses. The coronavirus pandemic has brought attention to how many telemedicine and telehealth options are available, Liu says.

"This has been building for a period time as women have seen their health-care rights eroded by the current administration," he says. "The good news is women have more choices online; they just don't know about it yet." 

Telemedicine can also be affordable. The average cost for a virtual "visit" and treatment if you need birth control is $32, according to data from GoodRx. Telemedicine company HeyDoctor, for example, says patients pay on average $20 for a the doctor visit and $13 for the prescription. 

Many who use telemedicine don't do so as replacement for a doctor. "It's meant to be complementary," Liu says. "You can have more than one person taking care of you. For birth control, [telemedicine] can be more convenient. We've had people tell us that they have an OB-GYN who does not believe in birth control. We've been told that by women all over the country." 

For birth control, [telemedicine] can be more convenient.
Davis Liu
chief clinical officer at telemedicine provider Lemonaid Health

Buy in bulk

"A 90-day prescription is a little more affordable and it's not difficult to get," Marsh says. "All your need to do is ask your doctor for a 90-day prescription and they will send that to the pharmacy." 

By asking for a 90-day supply, you can reduce the cost of your copays, and often, the price is somewhat cheaper than buying each month's supply individually.

Most importantly, Marsh says, remember that just because a drug is affordable doesn't mean it is right for you. "One mistake, which I have made, is not to listen to your body," she says. "I remember shopping around for [birth control] and I found an affordable one and kept trying to take it and force it," even though it wasn't agreeing with her. 

Though it's smart to try to save money, it's also important to make sure that you feel OK, she says. "Don't ignore these cost conversations with your doctor and don't avoid the conversation about listening to your body." 

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