The online birth control market has swelled with relaxed prescription regulations and wider use of telehealth—and that shift may outlast the coronavirus.
Roughly one in four women using birth control pills have switched to telehealth appointments with their health-care provider to have their prescriptions refilled, according to a new report from reproductive health group the Guttmacher Institute. Cheap birth control for people without insurance is especially important now because roughly 11.5 million women have lost their jobs during Covid-19, according to the Pew Research Center.
Online birth control company Simple Health has seen participation double since March, CEO Carrie SiuButt said. Women can receive contraception through the mail after having a virtual appointment with a doctor.
“Covid-19 has shifted the way the entire health care system will be performing,” SiuButt said. Even after the pandemic ends “people will be going to see their brick and mortar providers in emergency situations and telemedicine will be the first gateway to accessing health care going forward.”
State and federal authorities relaxed some prescribing rules during the pandemic, like allowing out-of state health care providers to write prescriptions for local patients. That’s helped boost the online birth control market, SiuButt said. She anticipates some of those changes could eventually become permanent.
Inequity ‘Compounded’ by Covid
But expanded telehealth resources can’t overcome economic and health disparities the pandemic has spotlighted. Latina, Asian, and Black workers are more likely to have lost their job because of Covid-19 than White workers, according to Pew. Black and Hispanic communities have been hit the hardest by the pandemic and have higher death rates than White Americans.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has also compounded inequities in reproductive care,” according to Laura Lindberg, one of the authors of the Guttmacher Institute’s report. “Communities who were marginalized by structural inequities in our health-care systems before the pandemic—due to race, income, or sexual orientation—are now being hit the hardest, both by the virus and by the ripple effects,” she said.
Hispanic and Black women report feeling more anxious about accessing reproductive health care than White women. Almost half of Hispanic women surveyed by the Guttmacher Institute reported a delay in receiving reproductive care since the pandemic started.
Roughly 22% of people in rural communities and 28% of people on tribal lands don’t have access to internet with “moderate” browsing speed. That makes it more difficult for women in those areas to connect with companies like Simple Health.
“Telemedicine is already helping to fill in some COVID-related service gaps,” Lindberg said. But some of those gaps are still wide open.
“People are struggling to get groceries, find work, make ends meet and find childcare,” she said. “We must not forget that for many women—especially women already facing inequalities in our health care system—they’re also struggling to get the contraception they need to make incredibly important decisions for themselves and their families.”