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Health insurance may cover birth control and other sexual health services. And family planning clinics and public health offices may provide free or low-cost options. Also, people with lower incomes may be eligible for reduced-cost birth control through programs such as Medicaid.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 65.3% of women aged 15–49 in the United States used birth control between 2017 and 2019.

The Affordable Care Act, which is informally known as Obamacare, has made it so that most health insurance plans cover birth control and associated expenses, such as doctor’s visits.

For people without health insurance, there may be other ways to access free or low-cost birth control.

This article describes the different types of birth control, how to access free or low-cost options, and when to see a doctor for advice.

There are many varieties of prescription and over-the-counter birth control, including:

Anyone interested in hormonal methods of birth control may need to make an appointment with a healthcare professional for a prescription.

Learn more about the different types of birth control here.

IUDs

These devices may be nonhormonal and made from copper, or they may be hormonal and made from plastic. In any case, the device is thin and shaped like a T. A doctor inserts into the uterus.

A person can use the same IUD for 3–10 years, depending on the type, the CDC says. It also reports that the failure rate is less than 1%.

Other hormonal birth control methods

Other hormonal methods of birth control include:

  • Oral contraception: A few types of birth control pills are available, including a combination pill, which contains estrogen and progestin, and a progestin-only pill. A person needs to take the pill at around the same time every day. These pills are about 93% effective, if a person uses them exactly as instructed.
  • The patch: This adhesive patch contains a combination of hormones. A person applies it to their lower abdomen or buttocks and changes it once a week for 3 weeks of the month. On the 4th week, a person does not wear the patch so that menstruation can occur. The patch is 93% effective.
  • The implant: The implant is a small, rod-shaped device that a healthcare professional inserts beneath the skin of the upper arm. It involves having an injected anesthetic and takes place at a doctor’s office. The implant releases hormones, and it is 99% effective for up to 3 years.
  • Birth control injections: A healthcare professional injects progestin into the upper arm or buttocks every 3 months. It is 96% effective.
  • The ring: A person puts the ring into their vagina, then changes it once a week for 3 weeks of the month. The ring is 93% effective.

Barrier methods

Barrier methods of birth control include many over-the-counter products, such as condoms and spermicides.

The only types of barrier birth control that require a doctor’s visit are the diaphragm and the cervical cap.

Barrier methods are generally less effective than other forms of birth control.

Failure rates of popular barrier methods range from 13% for condoms to 27% for the sponge. People who have been pregnant may find the sponge less effective than people who have never been pregnant.

Emergency contraception

Emergency contraception is available in different forms. A person may use it if their primary method fails or if they have had sex that could lead to pregnancy but have not used contraception.

In the United States, emergency contraception is available as levonorgestrel (Plan B) and ulipristal (Ella), both of which are pills containing hormones. It is also available as the Paragard IUD. Some of these are available without a prescription.

Learn about buying emergency contraception online.

Permanent birth control

Permanent methods of birth control are surgical procedures that are collectively called “sterilization.”

A person with female reproductive organs can have a tubal ligation. During this procedure, the fallopian tubes are removed, cauterized, or tied off.

A person with male reproductive organs can have a vasectomy.

Both male and female sterilization procedures have a failure rate of less than 1%.

Many factors can influence access to free birth control, including:

  • insurance coverage
  • the preferred type of birth control
  • whether a person’s employer has an exemption so that its health insurance does not need to cover the cost of birth control, such as for religious reasons
  • access to family planning clinics and public health offices that provide free or low-cost options

General considerations

Before settling on a type of birth control, the American College of Gynecologists recommends considering:

  • how effective it is
  • how easy it is to use
  • whether a prescription is needed
  • whether it protects against sexually transmitted infections (STIs)
  • any ongoing health conditions or health-related factors that may be relevant

A healthcare professional can discuss the options and help a person choose.

Under the Affordable Care Act, health insurance plans in the U.S. are required to cover the costs of birth control methods that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved, as well as birth control counseling and education.

However, insurance plans do not have to cover medications that induce abortion or services related to the male reproductive system, such as vasectomies.

Specifically, the Affordable Care Act requires that plans cover the costs of:

  • barrier methods
  • hormonal methods
  • IUDs and other implanted devices
  • emergency contraception
  • female sterilization procedures
  • patient education and counseling

The logistics depend on the kind of birth control a person wants and whether they have health insurance.

As we describe above, some types of birth control require a prescription. The cost of the doctor’s appointment may also be covered if a person has insurance through the Health Insurance Marketplace or an employer that does not have a religious exemption.

At the appointment, a person discusses their preferred choice with a doctor. The doctor does an examination, asks some questions, and may write the prescription. Some healthcare facilities may be able to provide the birth control right away.

For people without insurance, the following places may have low-cost birth control options:

  • Community and nonprofit clinics: These offer low-cost or free contraceptives and family planning. Some clinics do this because they receive government funding through Title X. People can find a local Title X clinic through the Office of Population Affairs’ clinic finder.
  • Federally Qualified Health Clinics (FQHCs): These provide healthcare on a sliding scale, but not all FQHCs offer reproductive care. A person can find their closest FQHC and see which services it offers on the Health Resources and Services Administration website.
  • Planned Parenthood: Healthcare professionals at Planned Parenthood centers can help people find the type of birth control that suits them best, and some centers provide low-cost reproductive health services.
  • University health centers: These may provide free or low-cost options.

In the U.S., people with low incomes may qualify for healthcare under Medicaid.

Medicaid is a jointly funded state and federal program that helps reduce the cost of healthcare for people with low incomes, pregnant people, and people with certain health conditions and disabilities.

According to the organization, Medicaid provides coverage for more than 72 million people in the country.

Learn who is eligible and how to apply for Medicaid here.

The birth control methods that Medicaid covers vary from state to state. The state’s Medicaid office can provide more specific information.

If a person is not eligible for Medicaid, they can check with their nearest public health department, community or nonprofit clinic, Planned Parenthood branch, or university health center about free or low-cost options.

Learn how Medicaid is different from Medicare here.

Accessing affordable birth control online

People can purchase birth control online by registering with a telehealth company. Some offer a consultation with a doctor who issues a prescription. The company may then send the prescription to a local pharmacy. Or, they may send the pills, for example, to the person’s house.

Learn more about purchasing birth control online.

A telehealth consultation may be less expensive than a doctor’s visit. But these companies can only provide birth control that people can use without medical assistance, such as the pill. If a person wants an IUD, a diaphragm, or an implant, for example, they need to see an in-person healthcare professional.

The following are a selection of telehealth companies that offer birth control:

  • Nurx: To order birth control from Nurx, a person needs to sign up on the company’s website or through its iOS or Android apps. The person then pays for an online consultation, which ranges from $15–60. If the doctor prescribes birth control, the person receives a 3-month supply with automatic refills. Learn more about Nurx here.
  • Pill Club: This company accepts customers with and without health insurance. People with insurance receive free virtual consultations, prescription refills, and generic Plan B and condom add-ons. Those without health insurance can choose from a 1-year or 3-month supply of birth control. Learn more about the Pill Club here.
  • Planned Parenthood Direct: This is an iOS and Android app. Depending on a person’s state of residence, they can use it to receive prescriptions for birth control at their local pharmacy, as well as emergency contraception.

Some clinics also offer telehealth consultations for new and existing patients to discuss birth control. People can access these using mobile devices.

Anyone who takes oral birth control should have routine checkups with a health professional. Several health conditions, or being at least 35 years old and smoking, may make taking oral contraceptives unsafe.

Some examples of these health conditions include:

A healthcare professional will recommend different contraception for people with these conditions.

The table below describes factors to consider when comparing different birth control methods.

Birth controlWhere to buyCostHow long does it last?
the pill• local pharmacies
• health clinics
• telehealth companies
$10–20 a packone pack lasts around a month
IUDhealth clinics$500-1,300up to 10 years
implanthealth clinicsup to $1,300up to 3 years
male condoms• local pharmacies
• health clinics
• telehealth companies
• grocery stores
$2–6 for a pack of 12one use per condom
birth control shothealth clinicsup to $150three months
diaphragm• local pharmacies
• health clinics
up to $75up to 2 years
tubal litigationhealth clinicsup to $6,000permanent
vasectomyhealth clinicsup to $1,000permanent

Under the Affordable Care Act, most health insurance providers must cover the costs of birth control — but not vasectomies.

Still, Planned Parenthood reports that many insurance companies cover some or all of the costs of a vasectomy.

Medicare Parts A and B do not cover vasectomies, because the plan considers them to be elective procedures. However, some Medicare Advatnage plans may cover some or all of the costs.

Sexually active people may wish to discuss their options with a healthcare professional, who can describe the range of contraceptives, make recommendations, and provide STI screening.

A person should contact a doctor about birth control if:

  • They want to use a hormonal method, an IUD, or are considering surgical options.
  • They have been using birth control and are now considering pregnancy.
  • They have been using birth control and would like to change their method.
  • They have sudden menstrual cycle changes or other new or concerning symptoms.
  • They think they may be pregnant.

Below are answers to some frequently asked questions about free or low-cost birth control.

What is the cheapest type of birth control?

This depends on many factors, including a person’s insurance coverage and access to free or low-cost options.

Also, a person may prefer lower monthly payments or a larger up-front cost. For example, an IUD may cost up to $1,300 and last as long as 10 years, making the cost per year around $108.

The pill can cost around $10–20 per pack. Usually, a pack lasts about a month, making the yearly cost $120–240.

The birth control method with the lowest up-front cost is male condoms. However, these are only 85% effective at preventing unintentional pregnancy, whereas IUDs are 99% effective, and the pill is 91% effective.

Where should I go if I do not have insurance?

A person can sign up for a telehealth service or visit a local nonprofit, community, or university clinic. Some of these may be called “Title X” clinics or “FQHCs.” We provide links and more specific information above.

A telehealth consultation may be cheaper and more convenient than a doctor’s visit, and some companies offer automatic refills. However, not all types of birth control are available via these services.

Is birth control free through the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare?

The Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, mandates that most insurance companies must cover the costs of FDA-approved birth control.

However, a person should check their insurance plan before choosing a method of contraception.

How do I decide which type of birth control to use?

Among the many factors to consider are:

  • insurance coverage
  • cost, for people with no or incomplete coverage
  • whether the contraception should be long or short term
  • whether it should be reversible or permanent
  • whether it protects against STIs

A healthcare professional can describe the options and make recommendations.

There are many types of birth control. For some, a person needs a prescription or to have a device fitted or implanted at a doctor’s office.

In the U.S., many people have access to free birth control through the Affordable Care Act and their health insurance plans.

People without insurance may be able to access free or low-cost birth control at a local nonprofit, community, or university clinic. Some of these may be called Title X clinics or FQHCs. Coverage through Medicaid may also be an option.