The Trump administration recently issued two new rules that may increase the cost of contraception for millions of American women. The issued rules allow more companies to opt out of an Obama-era mandate that companies offer insurance providing birth control for women. Now, any company can be exempted from the mandate on moral or religious grounds.
The rule went into effect on Oct. 6.
Previously, only religious employers like churches or nonprofit religious groups — like some schools or hospitals able to prove they have religious objections to providing contraception coverage — could opt out of the mandate.
The rules could affect the more than 62 million women who currently have access to no-cost birth control under the Affordable Care Act, according to Planned Parenthood. As of this writing, no appeals process was in place.
Since the health care law, a signature of the Obama White House, went into effect, out-of-pocket spending on prescription drugs has decreased dramatically. The majority of this decline (63%) can be tied to the drop in out-of-pocket expenses on the oral contraceptive pill for women, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. After the mandate, more women have opted for more expensive, more effective, longer-lasting contraception options they otherwise wouldn’t be able to afford, like intrauterine devices (IUDs).
“It is going to be a significant problem for families around the country,” said Maggie Jo Buchanan, the Southern regional director for Young Invincibles, a nonprofit advocacy group for young adults. “People will be living on pins and needles just trying to figure out what is covered under their plan.”
How many women could the new regulations affect?
In its announcement of the changes, cast as protections for Americans’ conscience rights,, the Trump administration claimed that most women — specifically, 99.9 percent of the 165 million women in the United States — would not be affected.
Some women’s rights advocates and legal experts have disputed that math.
“The claim that 99.9 percent of women won’t be affected is quite inaccurate,” said Erika Hanson, a women’s law and public policy fellow at the National Women’s Law Center, a nonprofit organization that advocates for women’s rights, as recent research suggests the regulations may affect health care costs for millions of women.
Now that any employer can opt out of coverage, American women on employer-provided health insurance plans are at a higher risk of losing no-cost contraception coverage. Kaiser Family Foundation has reported that roughly 57.5 million women — about 59% of women ages 19 to 64 — received their health coverage from their own or their spouse’s employer in 2015.
“We all agree that the First Amendment and freedom of religion is an important Constitutional protection in this country,” says Hanson. “But that right does not give one the ability to impose their religious beliefs on someone else, especially when someone else is going to be harmed as a result of your religious beliefs.”
At the moment, it’s difficult to determine exactly how many people will be affected by the new regulations. Since the Supreme Court’s 2014 ruling that closely held private companies could seek an exemption on religious grounds, only a few dozen companies have asked for exemptions, POLITICO found last year.
“We are hoping that companies worried about their bottom line will stand behind the birth control benefit and say, ‘We value our employees and are going to continue to provide this coverage,’” Hanson said.
How will I know if I am affected?
Since companies aren’t required to disclose to employees whether they have opted out, many women may not find out they are not longer covered until they get to the pharmacy counter.
“No companies or schools have dropped coverage yet. But also under the rule, we wouldn’t know” if they did, Hanson said. “They don’t have to do anything or tell anyone.”
12 Tips to lower your contraceptive costs
For those who are strapped for cash, losing no-cost contraception coverage may mean losing access to birth control altogether. Research shows that copays as modest as $6 may deter some women from purchasing contraception coverage.
Those affected by the rules will incur the costs of figuring out a way to afford birth control out of pocket.
Getting prescriptions directly from your doctor or OB-GYN may not be the most economical choice. “If you can’t use your health insurance coverage, it’s typically very expensive to go to your normal primary care physician and get a birth control prescription,” says Hanson.
Here are some other suggestions:
Go to a low-cost clinic
Try going a federally qualified health center for more affordable services. Women can find one nearby through the Health Resources and Services Administration. The program is run by the HRSA, a subset of the Department of Health and Human Services, and offers services based on income, whether you have health insurance or not.
Going with the generic brand of the birth control pill could help women save money. Generic brands usually cost less than the name-brand version, but use the same active ingredients. Women should ask their doctors about switching, however; some women may experience adverse side effects, or different effects than with the branded version.
Check here for a list of the name-brand contraceptive medications and generic versions.
Coupons can help
If someone is prescribed a more-expensive, name-brand drug, she may find savings through the use of coupons. Search online on websites like HelpRx or EasyDrugCard.com to find a coupon for contraception. Some brands, like Loestrin 24 Fe, offer discount cards. This product’s card — you can apply here — can help you pay pay as little as $25 per one?month prescription fill or three?month prescription fill. You can also get discounts for Yasmin.
Speak with your doctor
Women may also save money by going to a physician or clinic that offers prescriptions on a sliding, income-based scale. Physicians can sometimes provide more affordable coverage if a patient speaks to them about their financial situation. The doctors may also allow patients to bypass insurance and pay in cash.
Women looking for savings can compare prices at different retailers to save money. Call around to check the price of your prescribed contraception at pharmacies in your area. You may be surprised at how much prices will vary, especially if you aren’t covered by insurance.
Try a long-term solution
Using a longer-term contraception method like the IUD may help women save money on contraception. The IUD may cost more upfront — between no cost and $1,300, according to Planned Parenthood — but women usually save more in the long-run an IUD lasts the longest compared with other methods. For example, the median price of the Mirena IUD, is effective for up to five years and is $1,111, according to the doctor-database site Amino. That would put the monthly cost over that time at about $18.52. Meanwhile, the birth control pill costs uninsured women up to $50 per month.
Join a prescription savings club
Both insured and uninsured women may find significant savings by joining a prescription savings club like those offered through large national pharmacy chains like Walgreens, CVS or Rite Aid. Other companies, such as My Prescription Savings Card and Good Neighbor Pharmacy, offer savings programs consumers can use at various locally owned pharmacies or smaller pharmacy chains. There may be an enrollment or annual fee charged for a membership. Good Neighbor, for example, charges a $5 annual enrollment fee.
Use pretax dollars
If a consumer has a Flexible Savings Account or Health Savings Account through an employer, that means an ability to fund the account with pretax dollars and use it to pay for health-related expenses. This is a smart way to stretch funds.
Ask for three months’ worth of the Pill
You may be able to earn a discount if you purchase more of the Pill at once. You may pay the same copay if you ask for a 90-day prescription as opposed to a 30-day supply. This also saves consumers time, as it cuts back the number of trips they will need to make to the pharmacy.
Use the mail
Consumers can also save simply by ordering medication through the mail. If the insurer has a long-term prescription program, women may pay a lower copay if they choose to have a 90-day prescription mailed, as opposed to picking it up at a pharmacy.
Try enrolling in a government program
Several government programs provide free or subsidized contraception for low-income women, including Medicaid, Title X-funded centers and some state-funded programs. Women having a tough time affording contraception coverage should check to see if they qualify for enrollment in these programs, enabling them to receive low-cost or free contraception and other medical services.
If you’re not in a long-term relationship, don’t engage in intercourse with the opposite sex often or don’t need contraception for other medical issues, you may not need to pay for birth control pills or other forms of short-term contraception like the Depo Provera shot. Women in this situation can speak with a primary care physician about getting off the contraception they now use, in favor of condoms to minimize the risk of pregnancy.
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