Legislation brings Berkeley easier access to birth control

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Mikaela Raphael/Senior Staff

Students can now start acquiring birth control at the Tang Center and certain local pharmacies sans a doctor’s appointment.

The new options follow a California law that went into effect last April, which allows access to hormonal birth control such as the pill, patch or ring in self-administered forms, without a doctor’s prescription. At the time of the law’s initial adoption by the California State Board of Pharmacy, no pharmacies near campus had started offering the service. Now, new birth control services are being offered at the Tang Center and local Safeways, with some major pharmacy chains piloting them in other locations.

Want to take advantage of the option to get birth control without a doctor’s prescription? Here’s more information about how it works and where it is and isn’t available in Berkeley.

How can I get hormonal contraception via the Tang Center?

Since Aug. 1, 2016, the Tang Center has allowed students to start oral contraceptives, the patch or rings without an appointment through a nurse via the eTang online portal.

Once logged into the portal, click “Messages” on the left-hand bar. Open a new message, and select the option “Send a medication request to the UHS pharmacy.” Select the appropriate option, depending on whether you want to refill, renew or start your birth control. Then fill out the 25-question form, which covers medical history and other background information, and wait for a prescription to be approved.

“It’s working very well online, and students are taking advantage of it, loving not having to come in for an appointment,” said University Health Services spokesperson Kim LaPean in an email.

A similar service will eventually be offered through the UHS Pharmacy, likely in the summer, according to LaPean. Once the option is implemented, patients will need to answer the same screening questions that are asked via the online portal, undergo a consultation and provide a recent blood pressure.

Birth control is in most cases completely covered under the Student Health Insurance Plan, according to the UHS website. Students ordering birth control through the Tang Center portal can get their medication sent to an outside pharmacy, which is recommended for those covered by a provider other than SHIP.

If you want to start a type of birth control that requires an in-person visit — such as an IUD — you can still make an appointment online through the Tang Center. If you’re not sure about your options, the Tang Center recommends making a free health counseling appointment.

How can I get birth control without a doctor’s prescription from a local pharmacy?

Safeway pharmacists across the state, including those in Berkeley and Oakland, have provided this service since May.

“We have a professional pharmacist at each location that has received the state-mandated training to provide hormonal birth control without a prior prescription,” said Safeway spokesperson Wendy Gutshall in an email.

It’s recommended that patients call in advance to make sure the trained pharmacist is available, Gutshall said. To collect the birth control (the pill, patch and ring are available), you must complete a questionnaire and consult with the pharmacist about your personal needs and information, which includes a blood-pressure reading. If the information indicates that the patient can safely use their desired birth control method, the pharmacist will provide it.

Safeway charges a $45 fee for the pharmacist consultation, which is waived if you do not receive the contraception. Whether that fee is covered varies among insurance providers, according to Gutshall. The fee for a doctor’s visit to get a prescription could cost $35 to $250, according to Planned Parenthood.

But not every chain pharmacy in Berkeley is providing this service, and it is not offered at  any of the Walgreens or CVS pharmacies in Berkeley. Walgreens spokesperson Jim Cohn said the option is being offered as part of a pilot program at a small number of stores, and CVS has piloted the service at two dozen locations, including five in Los Angeles, the Los Angeles Times reported in October.

What are my other birth control options?

Doctors advise that you don’t skip out on your regular health appointments — but if you want to skip an in-person consultation all together when it comes to getting birth control, there are also a number of websites and apps that make it possible to get contraceptives digitally. For example, through the Planned Parenthood Direct app you can get a prescription for a $15 fee after submitting your blood pressure and answering a few questions about preferences and possible risks or health problems.

Additionally, the new law does not cover contraception methods such as the IUD or Implanon, which have to be inserted by a health care provider. While many who supported the new law hoped it would make birth control more accessible, it may not turn out to be the most convenient or financially feasible option for everyone.

Contact Melissa Wen at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @melissalwen.

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