Birth control pills can be tough to budget for. Prices can jump and fall in ways that seem to defy logic.
After the Affordable Care Act went into effect, for example, women saw a significant decrease in out-of-pocket contraceptive spending, according to a report published in Health Affairs. But last year, the Supreme Court ruled that employers could opt out of coverage entirely if they had a religious or moral objection. That might have spiked costs for some patients.
But here’s the good news: Regardless of whether your insurance covers birth control — or even if you don’t have health insurance — you have options. A savvy shopper can usually find low-cost oral contraceptives, says Danielle Plummer, PharmD, a pharmacist specializing in women’s health. She offers these 6 strategies for reducing your contraceptive bill.
1. Know your pills
Birth control pills come in 2 varieties. The first is formulated with just the hormone progestin. Norethindrone, also known as the minipill, is an example. The second is a mix of progestin and a second hormone, estrogen. Viorele falls into this category. (Get a coupon for Viorele or search for discounts on your pill.) And there are different types within this combination category, depending on how often (or whether) you want to have periods and the level of hormones that’s best for you. Some pills also contain iron.
Plummer says some of these pills are simply more expensive. They come with higher copays, or in some cases, no coverage at all. These tend to be:
- Those that contain iron (look for FE on the label)
- Those with an extended cycle, which are designed to shorten or eliminate your period
- Certain progestin types. These vary from one insurance company to the next (call your insurer to find out which types are covered).
Asking your prescriber to adjust your pills so they don’t contain iron, don’t have an extended cycle, or use a type of progestin that’s covered by your insurer could reduce costs, says Plummer.
2. Consider a prescription-savings program or rebate program
Call your pharmacy and ask if it offers a discount program that includes birth control, suggests Plummer. You might be surprised: For a small annual fee, many companies offer prescription savings plans that knock a decent percentage off your costs. This is also where programs such as Optum Perks can help. Just download our app, type in your oral contraceptive, and get an instant coupon you can use at the pharmacy. Sometimes you can spend less than your insurance plan’s copay.
You can also ask the drugmaker if it offers rebates. Some manufacturers have programs that provide partial or full coverage for out-of-pocket costs.
3. Find a Planned Parenthood location
Well-known for its family planning services, Planned Parenthood can provide advice and possibly even low-cost birth control options. The organization can also offer exams, which are an important step before starting on a birth control pill, says Plummer. Some pills can be dangerous for people with certain conditions. And they could be ineffective mixed with other medications. Another advantage is that you can get preventative care at the same time to ensure you stay up-to-date on important screenings.
4. Tap into your pharmacist’s knowledge
Don’t forget to ask your pharmacist for suggestions. These professionals do far more than just fill prescriptions. They also stay on top of cost-sharing plans and local programs that can help. Plus, they’re familiar with prescription apps designed to help you save, such as the Optum Perks app.
5. Look into local and federal government services
Depending on where you live, you might be eligible for government-run health programs that include free or discounted birth control pills. Some of these plans will also cover your healthcare visits, including those for preventative care as well as for family planning, says Plummer. She suggests contacting your state or county health department and asking about family-planning services, particularly if you might qualify for Medicaid.
6. Work with your insurer
Finally, give your insurer a call. Some companies will direct you to their preferred retail pharmacies, while others provide options for discounted mail-order prescriptions. In that case, says Plummer, you might be able to secure a 90-day supply of pills for the same price you’re used to paying for a month’s supply at retail.
Download an Optum Perks discount card, and you can save up to 80% on prescription medications, including many birth control pills. The best part: It’s totally free!
Birth control costs: Health Affairs. (2015). “Women saw large decrease in out-of-pocket spending for fontraceptives after ACA mandate removed cost sharing.”
Birth control exemptions: U.S. Supreme Court
Birth control basics: Mayo Clinic