Birth Control Costs More Than You Think—Even for the Lucky Ones Birth Control Costs More Than You Think—Even for the Lucky Ones
The GOOD Life

Birth Control Costs More Than You Think—Even for the Lucky Ones

by Nona Willis Aronowitz, Amanda Hess

February 13, 2012

Last year, President Obama announced that insurers would be required to provide preventative care to women—including birth control—at no cost. Cue the political posturing.

Ninety-nine percent of women have used contraception, but that hasn't stopped far-right critics of the rule from trying to turn birth control into a controversy, one that has intensified in the past week. No one has spun the issue better than Georgia Representative Tom Price, who claimed that no woman has ever been denied access to birth control because she could not afford it. "Bring me one woman who has been left behind. Bring me one. There’s not one," Price told ThinkProgress when it asked how low-income women could access contraception if it were not insured.

Bring you one woman? Let's start with two. We are a couple of white, middle-class magazine editors. We have both had difficulty affording birth control at some point in our lives. And we're not alone. Many women struggle with the cost of birth control—1 in 3 of us, according to a recent Hart survey. Among young women, more than half face prohibitive costs. We know for a fact that it's not just the poorest Americans who are being left behind. The people affected by the high cost of birth control are poor, working class, and middle class. They are us, and they are our partners, too.

We rounded up a group of our peers to describe just how hard it can be to secure our daily pill. Within hours, we'd heard from two dozen women who have struggled to pay for contraception. And remember: We're some of the lucky ones. Here are our stories. Add yours in the comments or on Twitter with the hashtag #priceiswrong.

"Six weeks after the birth of my second child, I was investigating birth control options only to discover that under my insurance, an inter-uterine device was cost-prohibitive. It is very risky for mother and baby if two pregnancies happen in quick succession, so my options were to 1) take a slightly less expensive oral contraceptive with hormones that made me crazy, 2) stop having sex with my husband, or 3) use a barrier method of protection that is less effective than other forms of birth control. I am a logical liberal who also happens to be Catholic.  I am embarrassed by the outcry against birth control on the whole, but it seems even more ridiculous when applied to my situation—a married woman with two young children (including a one-month old) who is trying to do what is medically best for her family." —Anonymous, 35, teacher

"A couple of years ago, my insurance started covering just a tiny percentage of my birth control pills' cost, instead of most of it. I was on a pretty tight budget, and had to think about what healthcare-related cost I'd give up to make up the difference. I'd been seeing a physical therapist for a painful hand/arm condition I'd developed due to typing constantly. This physical therapy was the only thing that helped alleviate the pain and discomfort, but my insurance didn't cover it. I ended up dropping the physical therapy. My condition worsened steadily, but I had to make a (literally) painful choice." —Maya, 29, editor

"I had just moved to New York City after college, working at an unpaid internship and a few part-time jobs, watching my savings fly out the window with alarming speed, even as I ate PB&J sandwiches for every meal and drank only 40s. Paying the $30 per month to stay on the pill seemed silly since I wasn't even having sex regularly (reason #5,129 that long distance relationships suck: there is nothing more depressing than spending money you don't have on birth control that you're not even fully utilizing). Just using condoms seemed like a reasonable, cost-effective alternative. And it was—until the condom broke. After shelling out $450 for an abortion, $30 a month seemed worth it." —Maya, 25, writer

"When I first went on birth control, I was on a name brand version that worked really well with my body. Then I went to college, and my new health insurance plan's copays rose to $50 per month for the name brand version. There was no way I could afford that. I had to keep switching generic versions to try and find one that worked, but none of them worked with my body at all. Each time I risked pregnancy because they're not effective right away—not to mention, it was a hormonal roller coaster. Had I gotten the original brand without co-pay, I would have been much better off." —Bryce, 27, blog editor

"I went off the Nuva Ring because I felt like I couldn't afford it. I had a month gap between insurance and wasn't about to pay $90. So I went off and haven't gone back on because even the copay seemed like a lot. I'm on condoms now. I also had to go to a Title X clinic for years after college when I was working full time as a sexual health counselor because my private insurance had a $35 monthly CO-PAY! So I got it through a clinic based on my income which made me only pay $23 for it." —Zoe, 27, graduate student

"I stopped taking the Pill over the summer because I can't afford the $60 co-pay.  I already have a $60 copay for my antidepressants, plus $200 a month for therapy. In total, I was paying for $320 for my maintainance health care each month and it was squeezing me too tight. I decided something had to go.  I opted to stop taking the Pill because I was single at the time and not having sex on a regular enough basis to justify the cost." —Jessica, 28, writer

"My income often varies, and when I haven't been engaging in heterosexual possible baby-making activity on a regular basis and have needed funds for other pressing bills, I've opted out of using my preferred birth control method—the NuvaRing—in order to save money. I'd tell myself I would start using it again if the need arose, but that hasn't always been possible. I have had to wait a few days to get Plan B while waiting for a check to clear, thereby decreasing its effectiveness. As a full-time freelancer, I don't always know what my financial situation will be. Shelling out $50 a month for something I may not actually need doesn't always add up." —Rachel, 36, freelance writer

"When I graduated from college and had no health insurance, I depended on Planned Parenthood to gain access to the pills I needed to regulate my cycle.  I couldn't afford the out-of-pocket expense with my entry-level position at a small non-profit. Due to my health care realities, it was important for me to be on a specific pill that was really expensive. If I didn't have access to Planned Parenthood's support, I wouldn't have been able to improve my health and I would have continued to suffer from painful cramps and irregularity." —Jamia, 31, media activist

"I forgot to have my doctor call in my renewed birth control prescription to my campus pharmacy. So when I showed up to pick it up, they had the supplies on hand, but not for me. I had to call out to my doctor to get it reconfirmed. This meant that the prescription had not been processed by the insurance company and I was going to have to pay full price rather than the co-pay. And I had to get it then—I had to start the new cycle that day. You know how much it was? Instead of $10, it was $90! What?! It was a good lesson in how health insurance works, but when you have $180 dollars in your bank account and you're 19, that's kind of a weird call to have to make to your mom. Good thing mine's a college health nurse. I got a lecture on understanding how my healthcare plan works, and not one on having sex. I ended up submitting the prescription as an independent claim and waited three months to be reimbursed. In a way, I could afford it through the "safety net" that is my family. But if my parents didn't approve of my sexual activity, this could have had much larger financial repercussions." —Molly, 25, radio host

"I'll be 42 this spring, and I have NEVER had insurance coverage for contraception, mostly because I stopped having any health insurance at all around 1986. The two years before then, I had coverage, but through a Catholic hospital which didn't cover it. Lucky for me, through much of my life I have lived in cities with decent public health coverage for contraception (I've been a citizen my whole life, so that wasn't a barrier). Sometimes I didn't need it (lesbianism: the most underrated birth control on the planet)." —Heather, 41, sex educator and nonprofit founder

"I have had to struggle to pay for birth control on and off for years. Even though I have always had a job with insurance, my pills sometimes cost as much as $90 a month. My boyfriend helped to pay, but still, it smarted. Here we were trying to be responsible, and we had to pay a huge portion of our income for safe sex. I would always joke with him that every time we had sex we REALLY had to make it count because it was so expensive." —Anna, 27, nursing student

"I was a broke college student like everyone else. But my doctor prescribed me birth control to help with my irregular and extremely painful periods—the kind that would stop your entire day. My parents' extremely good union insurance would not cover the pill at all, even though it was stated by my doctor that it was not for contraception as much as it was for pain and irregularity. I spent a lot of time on the phone with the insurance company and my doctor, and after she wrote a letter explaining the situation, my insurance company refunded me around $600 after paying full price (around $76) for over a year. Flash forward to today—I have new insurance. My birth control pill doubled in price ($40 to $82 a month) WITH insurance coverage. I'm considering going off of this monster altogether because it just doesn't seem worth it. I might as well have a kid—hell, it'd be cheaper." —Jessica, 27, producer

"When I was 22, I was an intern and a waitress with no health insurance. My gyno's receptionist, Genie, was nice enough to smuggle me sample NuvaRings because I couldn't afford them. But even then, I had to pay for a checkup in order to get the prescription, which was more than $200. I was stuck between a rock and a hard place: Go to Planned Parenthood for a cheaper pelvic exam but no free birth control, or give up half my weekly earnings to go to my trusted clinic with a receptionist willing to bend the rules. When I moved from New York to Chicago, that wasn't an option. Once Genie's samples ran out, I had to go off the Ring altogether." —Nona, 27, GOOD associate editor

"I couldn't afford birth control as soon as I graduated. Luckily my gyno was cool and gave me sample packs that would last six months at a time. It's come to a point where I no longer choose to use it or any western meds, and while I am a conscious and alternative-lifestyle-type of person, it certainly didn't start that way. It had everything to do with cost. We got careers on the line and not everyone is cool with a pull out or a knock up!" —Sadye, 27, community organizer

"When I was 25, I had to leave a job without another one lined up because I had serious conflicts with my boss and the direction of the company. I have way too much dignity to beg for money, and since my then-boyfriend was already voluntarily paying more than his fair share of the bills while I looked for a job, I really didn't feel I could ask him to pay for birth control. So I tapped my savings. I scaled back on food, living off spaghetti noodles with oil rather than paying for actual produce. About five months into being unemployed, I was very close to having to ask him for money to pay for it, because I was nearly out of money altogether. Luckily, he got a vasectomy, which his insurance covered." —Amanda, 34, freelance writer

"Years ago, when I still wanted to be on the pill, my employed status went from full time with benefits to freelance with nothing—meaning I had to go off the pill or go broke. My really rich step-sister ended up helping me out by paying for my pill prescription in full until I got another full time job and health insurance along with it, but it was humiliating to have to ask her and I know most people don't have a really rich step-sister. I got lucky." Anonymous, 33, writer

"Not all birth control is created equal. Because I have polycystic ovary syndrome and a history of depression, some birth control pills can make my symptoms worse. The one brand that I've been most recently prescribed doesn't come in a generic. Even though I have health insurance, those pills are going to cost close to $700 a year, which is way more than I'm comfortable spending. Before this year, I've just gone without the pill—basically allowing my PCOS symptoms to get worse because it was too expensive to get the right pill. I'm sucking it up and spending now just because it's finally come time to put my health needs first. But still, birth control is fucking expensive, and it sucks." —Anonymous, 24, marketing professional

"My junior year in college, it was such a struggle to afford the pill every month. I didn't have enough time in my schedule to have a steady job, plus it was just plain expensive with everything else I had to pay for on my own. My mother had just gotten remarried and became a born again Christian. I remember calling her from the student pharmacy, begging her to help me pay for the pill and some flu medicine. She refused 'for my own good,' even though I was taking the pill because I had serious issues with cramps and irregular periods (and had still never had sex, but that shouldn't even be a factor)...When I was in my twenties, working for nonprofit domestic violence advocacy groups, not making a ton of money, and birth control was a significant dent in my paycheck, I complained about this to my boyfriend. He thought that the pill was a 'luxury' and that I shouldn't complain about it, or just stop taking it. I decided he was a luxury I couldn't afford." —Jen, 31, writer/editor  

"I got a one-year prescription for Lo-estrin that cost $40 a month. The pharmacy company's patent was about to go generic, so a few months before the generic was going to come out, the price went up to $80 a month. A new doctor appointment for a new prescription was $300. Even $40 at the time was too much for me. I just went off it." —Emily, 29, artist

"Living in New York has made it necessary to prioritize expenses, especially when you're broke. Do you pay your phone bill or for birth control? Do you betray your body or miss a call from someone about a job? If doesn't seem like you have a choice when you don't have the money for both. There have been months where I've had to sell clothes, cameras, whatever, to get me to the end of the month. Yes I have a job, a computer, things I don't need, but that doesn't mean that sometimes shit doesn't happen and you're short on cash. And that the $30 you need to pay for birth control is the same $30 you need to pay for two weeks worth of groceries and a pass to the train. Accessibility is about something being at hand when needed (and wanted!), not simply the fact that it exists at the Duane Reade down the street." —Christie, 26, illustrator

"When I graduated from college, I took an entry-level job that didn't offer health insurance. I had been taking birth control to regulate my acne—something that was out of control. When they first rang up the bill at the pharmacy for the pills without a prescription, I was shocked. I immediately turned to Planned Parenthood. To be perfectly honest, I couldn't even afford their sliding scale rates. But I went anyway. I made my way through a picket line of people calling me a baby killer, waited for hours, and got it. When the pills ran out, instead of going back, I gave up. I really didn't want to be called a baby killer again."Taylor, 28, high school administrative assistant

Right after college when I got kicked off my parents' insurance, I couldn't afford it and had to stop taking it. As a result, I had a few unnecessary 'scares' that wouldn't have been 'scares' at all if I had the pill." Lucille, 26, government relations

In 2008, I was on a gap year from college and school insurance had just run out. For a few precarious months, I was uninsured and hoping I wouldn't get hit by a bus while walking the dog, who—sad to say it—had a much more sophistocated health insurance policy than anything I'd ever been on. Luckily, I was living in Massachusetts, where my income level qualified me for a state-subsidized insurance plan. I had remained a resident of California all through college, but this was enough motivation for me to give up the right to vote and pay taxes in my sunny home state. My new insurance policy covered the full cost of all prescription birth control, including the IUD, as well as the insertion procedure. —Lena, 24

"I've always been able to afford birth control ... technically. But at various points over the past decade, access to birth control has been made so difficult that it's been almost impossible to get without putting my work at risk. When I moved to Los Angeles and started looking for a gynecologist, I spent hours huddled outside my office building on the phone with random doctors' offices, hoping to find one who would agree to see a woman who was not pregnant. When I finally found a doctor who would see me, he made condescending comments about my relationship status, refused to write me a prescription that lasted more than three months (though I had been taking this medication for ten years), and forced me to return to his office constantly to receive my test results and refill my prescription whether or not there was anything actually physically wrong with me. When I did return, he told me that he had lost my appointment and I would have to make another. I never went back there, and I'm not on birth control now. Time is money." —Amanda, 26, GOOD lifestyle editor

"I've been incredibly lucky when it comes to birth control. [But] friends of mine who very much want to be on the pill can't because their families disapprove or they can't afford it themselves. I've seen girls at my high school pregnant with their second or third child because they can't access or afford birth control or because they and their partners simply don't know how to practice safe sex (thank you, abstinence-only sex ed). So yeah, Rep. Price, access to BC isn't a problem when you're a white straight cis upper-middle class woman from a fairly easy going family with insurance like me. But don't you dare try to suggest that that's the norm." —Caitlin, 20, student

Photo via (cc) Flickr user M. Markus

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Birth Control Costs More Than You Think—Even for the Lucky Ones