I’m a reproductive justice lawyer and I still struggle to fill my birth control prescription.
Last summer, while at a reproductive rights training, I watched a skit by comedian Amy Schumer where she asked the opinion of her doctor, her boss, her bosses’ priest, her mom’s new boyfriend, a random kid in a park playing checkers, the Supreme Court and others, about whether or not she should take birth control. In true Amy Schumer form, the skit was incredibly funny, but painstakingly realistic. At the end of the skit, she finally gets her prescription filled only to have her prescription label read, “no more refills.” She exclaims, “What I have to go through all of this again next month?!” The pharmacist simply replies, “Yup,” and Amy angrily walks away.
For me, this moment hits very close to home.
Last week, I experienced this struggle first hand, again. Refilling my birth control prescription has always been anxiety provoking for me. But, now, as a reproductive justice lawyer, I am no longer just anxious, I am angry, no, livid, about this reality, and it has to stop.
In order to fully understand my current frustration, it’s important to know that I have been taking the pill since I was seventeen years old, without intentional interruption. While in college and law school, the Affordable Care Act’s inclusion of dependents twenty-six years old and younger—together with the law’s contraceptive coverage mandate—enabled me to receive my needed form of birth control through my mother’s health insurance. Let’s call this health insurance number one. The year that I turned twenty-seven I fortunately had a job and an employer that provided me with healthcare coverage and allowed me to receive the pill without cost-sharing. This is insurance number two. I then got married and switched jobs, which has led me to health insurance number three, all before turning twenty-eight.
Every time I switched employers and healthcare coverage, I also had to switch doctors because the network of each insurance provider didn’t include my previous doctor in-network.
While enrolled in health insurance number two, I was informed by my insurer that I needed to see an OB/GYN in order to receive a physical and prescription for birth control. I did exactly that. And, when I was at the OB/GYN, I asked them to fill my asthma medication as well, only to have that office tell me that I needed to go to an internal medicine specialist for that service. Being completely new to navigating the insurance world, and not a doctor, I complied and went to an internal specialist only to get hit with specialist’s fees. I then realized that I could go to a general practitioner who could prescribe me both birth control and asthma medication. But, of course, my original birth control prescription was not yet complete, and the primary care doctor did not feel comfortable providing me with an additional prescription, even though my biggest concern was ensuring that I did not experience any gaps in my medication regimen. Oddly enough, this particular primary care physician would not prescribe me with any birth control, but they were particularly concerned with making sure that I sat down while putting on my underwear one leg at a time… I’m still trying to figure out the importance of that advice.
So the story continues. I switched jobs and continued to have refills for my birth control prescription. I knew that my prescription would be up in May, and in an effort to avoid the previous fiasco, I made an appointment with a primary-care physician in April. But, alas, something went awry. It’s important to know that every month when I call my pharmacy to refill for my birth control, I hold my breath while I wait to hear the words, “your prescription will be refilled.” Once I hear those words, I can finally breathe a sigh of relief that I get to have another month of my medication. When I called in April, I heard no such encouraging words. Instead, the pharmacist said, “you have no refills left.” “What?! How could this be?” I tried to remain calm. “This can’t be true, I have at least one more refill, besides I never got a call saying that my refill expired.” She said, “You should have gotten a call, but I can’t tell you for sure if it went through.” Great. It’s Friday, I don’t have a primary-care physician. I don’t have an internal medicine physician. I don’t have an OB/GBN. I don’t want to stop taking my birth control. My only resort was to go to the local urgent care center, pay the exorbitant fee just to receive a prescription for birth control. I did it. I had no choice. Luckily, I have the privilege of a savings account and could afford this unintended fee, but for many others, this would have been impossible and many people would have to just go without their prescription.
As a reproductive rights, health and justice lawyer, I advocate for access to birth control every day. I advocate for myself every single day. Accessing birth control is hard, even for me, and this has to change. While Amy Schumer is able to make light of the struggle that many of us go through each month when trying to access birth control, in actuality, it’s anything but funny. Trust me, I’m not laughing.