As many doctors’ offices temporarily closed their doors and hospitals began new procedures for seeing patients during the pandemic, Americans’ options for accessing health care services became murky. We’ve seen positive, temporary regulatory changes—for example, new telehealth services allowed under state and federal regulation, broader insurance coverage and practitioners allowed to work across state lines—and the landscape of access has changed drastically in just a few weeks’ time. In this new normal, it’s crucial to have up-to-date information on the state of access. Family planning is certainly no exception.

Fortunately, Power to Decide has developed an online toolkit with state and federal resources on the current state of contraceptive access. Access is affected by a number of factors—in particular, geographic location often dictates how easy or difficult it is to get your preferred method of birth control. For example, over 19 million low-income American women currently live in “contraceptive deserts,” where a clinic offering a full range of birth control methods is not within reasonable distance. The online toolkit provides state-by-state information that breaks down where these contraceptive deserts are and how many women are affected in each.

Additionally, the toolkit includes maps showing state policies that affect contraceptive availability. For example, 21 states now require insurance to cover an extended supply of contraception, meaning that patients in some states can get up to a 12-month supply of their preferred birth control at one time. Extending supply limits in insurance coverage is crucial—data shows that overly restrictive prescription limits lead to unnecessary gaps in contraceptive use. In fact, research found that allowing for a 12-month supply of contraception in the Veterans Affairs health system would lead to fewer unintended pregnancies for women veterans and substantial cost savings for the VA.

Power to Decide’s toolkit also includes a 50-state map of pharmacist prescribing availability.[1] It even shows where legislation is under consideration to allow pharmacy access. (For those looking to advocate for such a policy in their state, consider Power to Decide’s sample op-ed resource!). Allowing pharmacists to prescribe birth control has been shown to reduce unintended pregnancies and the publicly funded medical costs associated with many of them, as well as increase access to preferred birth control methods for uninsured women.

State laws and regulations determine how easy or difficult it is to obtain birth control in any given area. Location, age and insurance status, among other things, all affect one’s ability to maintain her preferred family planning regimen. Navigating this environment can be tricky, but toolkits such as this help keep patients informed with up-to-date information. In the pandemic-focused environment we currently live in, knowledge truly is power.

[1] To determine whether a pharmacist offering prescription services is in your particular community, visit www.birthcontrolpharmacies.com.

Image credit:  Barbara J. Johnson