How are young people accessing birth control in the age of COVID-19?
The COVID-19 global pandemic has drastically changed the way people access reproductive health care. There have always been obstacles to accessing birth control - financial barriers, lack of insurance, and difficulty visiting a clinic, just to name a few. Now, with stay-at-home orders, closure of university health centers, and concerns about exposure to the virus, getting to a clinic for birth control is even harder, especially for young people. Widespread job loss due to COVID-19 has also left thousands of young people without health insurance or the necessary income to purchase contraception. Recognizing the severity and impact of these barriers, several programs are providing young people with free birth control to help them avoid unplanned pregnancy during the pandemic and beyond.
BCBenefits is a contraceptive access fund that helps low-income individuals overcome some of the most commonly faced barriers in access to contraception - cost, lack of insurance, and transportation. Since launching nationally in 2019, BCBenefits has provided over 2,500 eligible recipients with a telehealth appointment with a physician and a year’s worth of birth control, shipped directly to their door for free. Eligible recipients can also receive reimbursement for transportation to a clinic, the cost of an in-person birth control visit, and the method of their choice, if they prefer to go to a clinic for care.
The number of people seeking assistance from BCBenefits has increased exponentially since the pandemic began. From March to April 2020, there was a 66% increase in the number of individuals who received BCBenefits, and applicants are much more likely now to submit unemployment documentation or layoff letters as proof of eligibility. For young people in particular, BCBenefits has helped them navigate many of the challenges of accessing birth control during a global pandemic:
“It was incredibly helpful (especially in the midst of a pandemic) because I don't have health insurance and I live in a "healthcare desert" where I don't have many options available to me. Being able to have a year's supply was a godsend.”
“It was the easiest way to get a quick refill after my prescription was out. As the Covid19 pandemic started to spread everywhere I almost went without birth control for fear of contracting the virus at local clinics. I never thought it possible to get FREE birth control without health insurance!! I’m so grateful this program exists and wish I had known sooner!”
“SO AMAZING! I lost my long-term job as well as health insurance. I was worried about how I was going to buy birth control out of pocket and I was guided to you guys and it has been incredible. I never thought there would be resources like yours!”
National efforts are being supplemented with local programs to improve access to contraception. In eastern Kentucky, the All Access EKY project is making sure young people can access contraceptive methods without leaving their house. Kentucky has the fourth highest teen birth rate in the nation, and all of rural Kentucky is considered a contraceptive desert, or a place in which people lack reasonable access to a clinic offering the full range of contraceptive methods.
Amidst stay-at-home orders and rising unemployment during the pandemic, the AAEKY project has begun mailing free condoms and emergency contraception to young people in the region. Through a confidential online form, young people indicate how many condoms and emergency contraception doses they would like, and their request is filled by the project team. Since announcing this free resource on social media, the All Access EKY project has distributed more than 6,000 condoms and 140 doses of emergency contraception to over 100 eastern Kentuckians across 8 counties. A new donation from Plan B One-Step® will allow All Access EKY to continue this important work of providing emergency contraception to young people across Eastern Kentucky. This important work is helping young people in rural Appalachia get the resources they need to stay safe and healthy:
“I just want to sincerely thank you all so much I got my plan b from you all today and I am so happy! We don’t have a Planned Parenthood here and Plan B is so expensive (my new insurance does not cover it) and sometimes too much for me to afford. I love what you guys are doing and would love to help in any way possible.”
Although the COVID-19 pandemic has created additional challenges for young people seeking birth control, programs like BCBenefits and All Access EKY are working to ensure that all young people have access to the birth control method that works for them, their budget, and their new socially-distanced normal.