In college, making your sexual health a priority is fundamental. Yet many students encounter problems when it comes to keeping up with it; for students at DePaul who use birth control, obtaining a refill presents a major problem if their prescription is from their hometown doctor. Even making a trip to Planned Parenthood for their free birth control can cause scheduling issues for a busy student.
Birth control delivery services have made their way into our culture, where anything from toilet paper to McDonald’s can be delivered right to our front steps. The company The Pill Club (TPC) provides this service in 46 states, including Illinois, for free, where it makes monthly deliveries of contraceptives and other vitals like condoms, vitamins and emergency contraceptives with little-to-no cost to the patient.
Through their app, TPC is able to provide this service by cutting out the middleman – the pharmacy. By offering various forms of birth control, including the pill, patch and ring, their on-sight pharmacy encourages faster access to prescriptions. Their pharmacy includes a team of educated pharmacists and nurse practitioners who help to ensure the right birth control for the right person. With the pharmacy taken care of on their end, the patient no longer has to dread waiting in a line, or even worse, getting to the pharmacy just after their blinds go up.
For college students, access to adequate sexual healthcare can be difficult. DePaul students know this well, since the school doesn’t provide contraceptives or STD testing on campus. Students are instead referred to off-campus facilities, lessening their access to it. In addition, given that U.S. health education programs do not to devote a great deal of time to sexual health, many remain uneducated on the risks of not using contraceptives. Services like TPC can provide more accessibility to these necessary resources, thereby making students safer.
The cost of birth control remains the biggest issue for college students. Many can barely afford their rent or groceries, let alone contraceptives, and some students are uninsured. But representatives from TPC say the company aims to alleviate some of the burden, in part by offering free delivery services.
“For our insured patients, the great thing about it is (…) our own team will check to see your insurance has it totally covered; all you have is the copay which we potentially cover,” said Sandy Wang, one of the company’s nurse practitioners. “For the patients who aren’t insured, the wonderful thing about it is, because we have our own on-sight pharmacy, we are able to provide birth control at honestly a very low cost that is so competitive.”
Wang says that, on average, the pill from the pharmacy can cost around $10-15 per month for insured patients, and that number can skyrocket for those without insurance. But with The Pill Club, insured patients can pay less than $70 a year for their prescription. This can help uninsured students gain peace of mind, providing them with access to low-cost birth control without a doctor’s appointment that might otherwise drive them into a financial hole.
“Accessibility is the biggest benefit and the most important thing when it comes to birth control,” said Jenni Holtz, co-leader of the unofficial student group Students for Reproductive Justice.
In today’s political climate, this accessibility sometimes feels like it is dwindling. That’s why the company also advocates for independence in women’s sexual health. According to one of TPC’s founders, when women are able to take control of their sexual health, they gain a freedom of choice that empowers them in their lives.
“We want to empower our patients with the freedom to decide,” said Manbir Sodhia, head of Digital Strategy and one of the founding members of TPC. “We are not just offering a service and a functionality. We’re trying to create a movement around birth control and create a support system within the network with a safe space, where people can talk about this and see all the people who are going through the same situations as them.”
The debate around contraceptives rages on in the U.S. political arena. In October 2017, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced new rules that allow businesses and nonprofits to claim religious and moral obligations to obtain an exemption from the Obamacare birth control mandate. This mandate states that employers must cover women’s birth control with no copay. As of April 2018, religious employers “don’t have to cover contraceptive methods and counseling” and employers from religious nonprofit organizations “don’t have to contract, arrange, pay, or refer for contraceptive coverage,” according to the U.S. Healthcare website.
The issue is viewed on one side as a war on women that seeks to control of their health; on the other side it’s viewed as a war on religious freedom. Sodhia said TPC doesn’t wish to align themselves with political leanings because they serve women on both ends of the political spectrum. The goal, she says, is to establish a culture in which the security of women’s health is no longer met with uncertainty.
“We are hoping we can leverage a movement through getting more people on board and building a critical mass,” said Sodhia. “The more we grow, the more we will really have a voice at the table.”
Despite the recent politics around sexual health, companies like TPC help to ensure that women are still able to access fast, free and low-cost birth control. While American culture sometimes seems to be working against women’s sexual health, the fact that TPC and similar companies have been able to get their foot in the door by providing personalized and attentive care shows that the conversation around women’s sexual health is, increasingly, headed in a more progressive direction.