- Because of COVID-19, telehealth has become more commonplace and accessible.
- Allowing women to get and refill birth control prescriptions via text or phone would increase accessibility.
- Lawmakers must make their constituents’ continued access to basic birth control through telehealth a key focus.
- Liz Meyerdirk is the CEO of The Pill Club, a direct-to-consumer birth control provider and wellness brand.
- This is an opinion column. The thoughts expressed are those of the author.
- See more stories on Insider’s business page.
There are very few upsides to the pandemic, but the accelerated deployment and adoption of telemedicine is certainly one. Our healthcare system was forced to adapt to lockdowns and social distancing, so the CDC issued emergency waivers for patients to use telehealth services from home, allowing doctors to be paid for virtual visits. Clearly, not all medical care can or should be provided virtually forever, but one category absolutely should: birth control. That’s why we’re calling on Congress to increase access to birth control via telehealth on a permanent basis.
Barriers to birth control access
The number of telehealth claims increased 3,060% nationally from October 2019 to October 2020. The telemedicine solutions worked so well that lawmakers are looking to make some emergency stopgaps permanent, and members of Congress have introduced a slew of bills pertaining to telehealth just this year.
The status quo for millions of American women today requires them to see a doctor in person every year to receive a new prescription for a birth control medication they have been on for years if not decades. Women must make these appointments not because they want to, but because in many places they have to, and in other places, because they don’t realize there is another option. Women who are already navigating multiple jobs or caregiving responsibilities also then have to drive, park, take the bus or subway, and wait in line every month at a pharmacy to get a limited supply of their medication, just 30 days at a time.
The persistent physical and economic barriers that keep women from receiving basic healthcare have only increased over the tumultuous past year. We know now that it is women – particularly black women – who are more likely to have lost their job due to the pandemic, and with it their work-related health insurance and access to affordable healthcare. A survey published last month revealed that nearly one in 10 women ages 18-25 and 7% of women ages 26-35 say they delayed or were not able to get their birth control due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
I recently became the CEO of The Pill Club, a company founded in 2016 to address this challenge and make women’s lives easier by delivering on-demand healthcare for their everyday needs. We currently provide 24/7 telehealth services from medical professionals for hundreds of thousands of women in 46 states. Our premise is that women’s health isn’t niche: it’s half the population.
An anecdote that perfectly encapsulates the absurdity of the constraints we place on women to receive this foundational care came my way recently from a current Pill Club member. She was turned away from her annual OB-GYN visit last year because she brought her toddler with her. Having her 2-year-old present violated office COVID-19 restrictions and she had to skip the appointment and forgo receiving a new prescription for a medication she’d been on for years. No one should have to get childcare or time off to gain access to this kind of healthcare.
Telehealth as a solution
“Telehealth” is sometimes used as a shorthand to mean video visits with physicians, but it also can refer to text and phone consultations. Text and phone have proven themselves to be a lifeline to increase access for seniors on Medicare during the pandemic, and we know that it can help younger women, too. Millions of Americans still don’t have high-speed internet, hi-res video, or unlimited data plans, particularly in rural areas and urban centers. Our company oversees nearly 250,000 patient visits a year, the vast majority of which don’t require video consultation. An example of a commonsense public policy change would be to permanently expand access to contraception care via text and phone consultations.
Making it easy for women to receive birth control consultations virtually and their medication by mail should not be viewed as a luxury, but rather a utilitarian tool that can save women precious time while they find a way to make ends meet, care for their children, and put their family lives back together post-pandemic.
This flexibility is even more important for the roughly 17 million women who receive Medicaid services and are currently within their reproductive years. After all, in 2018 Medicaid paid for 42% of all births in the United States, so it seems self-evident that helping women prevent unwanted pregnancies, which often result in costly care, should be top-of-mind for lawmakers.
As we move into a post-pandemic world, one in which women have borne the disproportionate cost of economic and job dislocation, we urge lawmakers to make their constituents’ access to basic birth control a key focus and permanently less of a hassle.