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Health insurance may cover birth control and other sexual health services. Some family planning clinics and public health offices may provide free or low cost options for those without insurance. 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 ages 15–49 in the United States used birth control between 2017 and 2019.

The Affordable Care Act, informally known as Obamacare, requires most health insurance plans cover birth control and associated expenses, such as doctor’s visits.

There may be other ways to access free or low cost birth control for people without health insurance.

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.

Barrier methods

Barrier birth control methods include over-the-counter (OTC) products, such as condoms. 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 for 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.

IUDs

Intrauterine devices (IUDs) are T-shaped devices that a doctor inserts into the uterus. The devices may be nonhormonal and made from copper, or hormonal and made from plastic.

According to the CDC, a person can use the same IUD for 3–10 years, depending on the type. The CDC also reports that the failure rate for IUDs is less than 1%.

Other hormonal birth control methods

Other hormonal methods of birth control include:

  • Oral contraception: There are two main types of birth control pill; a combination pill containing estrogen and progestin, and a progestin-only pill. A person must take the pill at around the same time every day. The pills are around 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. In the 4th week, a person does not wear the patch so menstruation can occur. This method is 93% effective.
  • The ring: A person puts the ring into their vagina, then changes it once a week for 3 weeks of the month. This method 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. A person undergoes this procedure in a doctor’s office. The implant releases hormones and 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. This method is 96% effective.

Emergency contraception

Emergency contraception is available in different forms. A person may use it if their primary birth control method fails or if they have had sex without using contraception.

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

Learn about buying emergency contraception online.

Permanent birth control

Permanent birth control methods are surgical procedures that people sometimes call “sterilization.”

A person with female reproductive organs can have a tubal ligation, in which a surgeon ties, off, cauterizes, or removes the fallopian tubes.

A person with male reproductive organs can have a vasectomy, in which a surgeon blocks or cuts the vas deferens tubes that supply the semen with sperm.

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

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

  • the person’s preferred method of birth control
  • insurance coverage
  • 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 providing free or low cost options

General considerations

The American College of Gynecologists recommends considering the following before settling on a type of birth control:

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

A healthcare professional can discuss a person’s options and help them choose an appropriate birth control method.

Under the Affordable Care Act, U.S. health insurance plans must cover the costs of FDA-approved birth control methods, alongside birth control counseling and education.

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

However, insurance plans do not have to cover either of the following:

  • medications that induce abortion
  • services related to the male reproductive system, such as vasectomies

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

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 method of birth control with a doctor. The doctor carries out an examination, asks some questions, and may write the prescription. Some healthcare facilities may be able to provide birth control right away.

For people without insurance, the following places may offer options for low cost birth control:

  • Community and nonprofit clinics: These offer low cost or free contraceptives and family planning. Some clinics offer this service due to 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, though not all FQHCs offer reproductive care. People can use the Health Resources and Services Administration website to find their closest FQHC and see which services it offers.
  • 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. This is a jointly funded state and federal program that helps reduce the cost of healthcare for people who:

  • have a low income
  • are pregnant
  • have certain health conditions and disabilities

According to Medicaid, the organization provides coverage for more than 81 million people in the country.

Learn who is eligible for Medicaid and how to apply 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 for free or low cost healthcare options with their nearest:

  • public health department
  • community or nonprofit clinic
  • Planned Parenthood branch
  • university health center

Learn how Medicaid is different from Medicare here.

People can purchase birth control online by registering with a telehealth company. Some companies offer a consultation with a doctor who issues a prescription. The company may then send the prescription to a local pharmacy. Alternatively, they may send the medications to the person’s home.

Learn more about purchasing birth control online.

A telehealth consultation may be less expensive than a doctor’s visit. However, telehealth companies can only provide birth control that people can use without medical assistance, such as barrier methods or the pill. A person may need to see a healthcare professional in person to receive other forms of birth control, such as an IUD, diaphragm, or implant.

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

  • Nurx: To order birth control from Nurx, a person must 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.
  • Favor: Formerly called 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 Favor 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 or emergency contraception at their local pharmacy.

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

Learn more about where to get birth control online here.

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 per 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 birth control costs, but this does not include vasectomies.

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

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

Sexually active people may wish to discuss their birth control options with a healthcare professional who can:

  • describe the range of contraceptives
  • make recommendations
  • 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 would like to change their method
  • they experience sudden changes to their menstrual cycle, or other new or concerning symptoms
  • they have been using birth control and are now considering pregnancy
  • 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?

The cheapest type of birth control depends on many factors, including a person’s insurance coverage and access to free or low cost options.

Also, people must consider whether they prefer lower monthly payments or a larger up-front cost. For example, the pill can cost around $10–20 per pack and lasts about a month, making the yearly cost $120–240. For comparison, an IUD may cost up to $1,300 and last up to 10 years, resulting in a yearly cost of $130.

The birth control method with the lowest up-front cost is male condoms. However, these are only 87% effective at preventing unintentional pregnancy, whereas IUDs are 99% effective, and the pill is 93% effective.

Where should I go if I do not have insurance?

People who do not have insurance 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?

When choosing a method of birth control, a person should consider the following:

  • whether they have insurance coverage
  • the cost, for people with no or incomplete coverage
  • whether the method will be long-term or short-term
  • whether the method will be reversible or permanent
  • whether the method protects against STIs

A healthcare professional can describe the available options and make recommendations.

There are many types of birth control. Some require a prescription or in-office medical procedure.

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.