You’ve seen the doctor, you have the prescription, but you don’t have the money. It’s an all-too-common scenario many will, unfortunately, experience at some point. Now multiply that worry and uncertainty by 12 if you need to refill a birth control prescription every month.
Sixty-two percent of women currently use birth control of some type, according to the United States Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS). Without insurance, however, three-fourths of those women would not be able to afford birth control if the price exceeds $20 per month, as the Guttmacher Institute found. One in seven can’t afford birth control at any price. “Affordable birth control,” for many women, really has to mean “free birth control.”
Fortunately, that is possible. The birth control options women need are available even without insurance and at a fraction of the cost–or even for free.
How to get birth control without insurance
Let’s start with the basics. Even without insurance, anyone with a prescription for birth control can purchase it at a pharmacy.
That means a trip to the doctor’s office is required. Patients who don’t see a doctor regularly can make an appointment at a family planning, public health, or Title X clinic.
For most birth control methods, the doctor’s visit will be very simple. Very little is required for a doctor to prescribe birth control. The doctor will ask a few questions including the patient’s medical history and maybe take a few vital signs. Tests aren’t necessary unless the patient has one or more risk factors, like high blood pressure or a history of smoking.
For more complex birth control methods, such as IUDs, diaphragms, or implants, additional work will need to be performed, such as a pap smear, pelvic exam, or insertion of the birth control device. Additional checkups and a removal procedure might also be necessary. These procedures will cost more.
But how do you actually get birth control? It depends on the method chosen.
Over-the-counter birth control, such as condoms, spermicide, and the “morning-after” pill simply involve a quick trip to the drugstore. Family planning and STI clinics may provide condoms and spermicide for free. You may be able to simply walk in and request these birth control methods.
Birth control pills and some medical devices, such as a cervical cap, will require taking a prescription to a pharmacy, although some clinics may provide the medicine or device on-site.
The more complex, long-term birth control methods, such as implants and IUDs, must be inserted by a healthcare professional in a medical office.
How much is birth control without insurance?
If you don’t do your homework, the simple answer is “too much.” Budgeting for birth control is difficult. Prices are all over the place. Whether you have insurance or not, getting birth control at an affordable price takes a bit of know-how.
The cost of birth control by type
Start by comparing birth control options. Each one varies in cost, value, effectiveness, and side effects. Both male and female condoms cost $1 or $2, but they can only be used once. Birth control pills can cost as little as $8 per month, but usually cost around $20-$30 every month. Longer-term birth control, such as diaphragms, vaginal rings, IUDs, implants, and hormone shots, can cost from $100 to $1,500.
Doctor’s visit and physical exam costs
Doctor’s visits are an additional cost. Expect to pay from $20 to $200 for each visit if you don’t have insurance. The cost will depend on where you seek medical services. Public health clinics, 340B providers, and Title X clinics may charge patients as little as $0 depending on income, but you usually can expect to pay around $20 or $25. A specialist, such as a gynecologist, might cost as much as $125 per visit.
Tests and procedure costs
For complex devices, such as IUDs, diaphragms, or implants, you’ll pay more for the additional examinations and tests. These birth control methods may require additional follow-up visits and a removal procedure that increase the cost.
Upfront cost of birth control vs. long-term value
Some birth control methods, such as men’s condoms, spermicide, and emergency contraception, can be purchased over-the-counter without paying to see a doctor. But because these are one-time only contraceptives, the cost of repeatedly buying them can add up over time. Longer-term birth control, such as IUDs, diaphragms, and birth control shots, may be a better value over time than short-term methods.
For example, the cheapest form of birth control, men’s condoms, will cost $1 per use. No doctor’s visit is required. However, this could add up to $100-$300 per year. More expensive, longer-term contraception may add up to the same yearly cost or less. A two-year diaphragm might cost $200 including the doctor’s visits. A 12-year IUD might cost $1,300, including doctor’s visits. Also, for long-term birth control, both the doctor visits and the medication or device are more likely to be provided at a low cost or something close to free at a public health clinic for patients who meet the income qualifications.
How much is birth control with insurance?
People with insurance are in luck. With insurance, birth control costs nothing. That’s right. The Obama administration’s Affordable Care Act (ACA) mandates that all health insurance plans cover women’s birth control, including surgery, and not charge a copay for the doctor’s visits or the birth control method prescribed. Insurance does not have to cover every brand of medication or device, but at least one option in every category of birth control is covered except for men’s condoms.
* According to Planned Parenthood birth control costs, which may not include the cost of a doctor’s visit or the insertion/removal of a device.
How to get discounted or free birth control
There are nine ways to get discounts or free birth control.
First, patients with or without insurance can rely on SingleCare for all of their prescription drugs. These coupons are free, reusable, and easy-to-use. SingleCare coupons can reduce the price of prescribed birth control by as much as 80%.
2. Go generic
The majority of birth control methods have generic and brand-name options. Like most medications, brand-name birth control can cost more than generic versions. Always ask a doctor if they can prescribe a generic birth control instead of a brand name.
3. Request a 90-day supply
Buying in bulk can save pharmacy customers a lot of money in the long run. The cost of a 90-day supply of birth control may be higher at checkout, but you’ll save on the cost of multiple copays for filling smaller prescriptions more frequently.
4. Health insurance
Even the cheapest insurance plan reduces the out-of-pocket cost of birth control down to $0. That includes the doctor’s visit and the birth control medication or the device itself.
Health insurance is an option worth exploring. Depending on your income, the premiums you pay may be partially or completely refunded to you as a tax credit. Free health insurance with no copay means access to free birth control.
Medicaid healthcare benefits are available to low-income seniors, the disabled, pregnant women, or families with children under the age of 18. Premiums are either low or waived completely. Medicaid contraceptive coverage includes free birth control.
6. 340B health care organizations
340B hospitals, clinics, and other safety-net healthcare providers can purchase drugs at a discount, including birth control pills, and dispense those drugs at a “reasonable” price. Depending on your income, these clinics will provide birth control pills, shots, and implants for free or at a discounted price.
7. Planned Parenthood clinics
Planned Parenthood clinics accept Medicaid and most health insurance plans. For patients without either, these clinics will often provide a discount on birth control depending on income.
8. Community or public health centers
Your community may have non-profit health clinics, public health centers, or family planning clinics providing discounted or free reproductive health services. For a nominal fee, usually $25 or less, you can be seen by a physician, prescribed an appropriate birth control method, and sometimes receive the contraceptive method you need, such as a shot, implant, or intrauterine device.
Clinics that focus on women’s health, sexual health, or STIs (sexually transmitted infections), as well as Title X clinics, are the most reliable venues to find discounted or free birth control.
9. Patient assistance programs
Finally, many pharmaceutical companies, medical device companies, and non-profit organizations provide drugs and devices for free to uninsured patients in need. Some cover the entire copay for insured patients. These patient assistance programs usually help patients prescribed the more expensive, brand-name products. However, if you qualify, patient assistance on a brand-name product is often a lower-cost or no-cost alternative to low-cost generics.