How to Get Free or Low-Cost Birth Control

Understanding Your Options If You’re a Minor or an Adult

There are many birth control options available, and it can be overwhelming to choose the best one for you. The stress of covering the cost can be an added burden. But if you're sexually active, it's important to adopt a birth control method to avoid unwanted pregnancy. Cost doesn't have to be a barrier to access, particularly if you have insurance.

This article discusses the birth control options available, where to begin your search, and how to get birth control for little-to-no money out of pocket, even if you don’t have insurance.

Young mother working from home during lockdown with her child.

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Can You Get Free Birth Control?

The short answer is yes, but access varies based on whether you have health insurance and where you live. Some states have laws that make it easy and convenient for women to get free birth control. In other states it can be more challenging, but it is possible.

Where the Government Stands

The Affordable Care Act (ACA), a healthcare law that was created to provide affordable health insurance to Americans, includes benefits for free birth control. Although the federal government has implemented this law, individual states may have their own requirements.

Types of Birth Control

There are many different types of birth control available that have been approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). It's recommended that you review your options with your healthcare provider to determine which one will best fit your lifestyle and your wallet.

IUDs and Implants

Intrauterine devices (IUDs) are small, flexible, plastic devices that are inserted into the uterus to prevent pregnancy. They can be inserted for several years and removed at any time a woman wants to conceive.

Implants are inserted into the upper arm and can stay in place for up to three years.

Some of the options include:

  • Copper T intrauterine device: This IUD option is shaped like a "T" and needs to be placed in the uterus by a healthcare provider. The copper IUD can stay in your body for up to ten years. It is the only nonhormonal IUD available.
  • Hormonal IUDs: Other IUDs work by releasing the hormone levonorgestrel, a form of progestin. These IUDs can last anywhere from three to six years, depending on which brand you choose.
  • Implants: Another form of hormonal birth control, the implant is a small rod-shaped device that is placed by a healthcare provider in your upper arm. It lasts for three years, after which time you'll need to go back to your provider to have it removed and replaced.

The Pill

Oral contraception (birth control pills) is one of the most common forms of birth control. The two main types of oral contraceptives are:

The Patch

This form of birth control adheres directly to the skin and stays on for three weeks straight. On the fourth week, you remove the patch to allow for a menstrual cycle and, once it's over, start the process again.

The Ring

Following a similar schedule to the patch, the hormonal vaginal contraceptive ring (NuvaRing) is placed inside the vagina for three weeks, removed for week four, and then replaced with a new one.

Unlike some forms of birth control that require a provider to help with placement, the ring can be easily inserted and removed by the user.

The Shot

The shot (Depo-Provera), also referred to as "the injection," requires a quarterly appointment with your healthcare provider to receive an injection of the hormone progestin.

Barrier Methods

Barrier methods of birth control block sperm from entering a uterus and reaching an egg.

Barrier methods do not have any hormonal component and, in some cases, can protect against sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). They are available without a prescription, so they usually require out-of-pocket payment.

Some barrier methods include:

  • Diaphragm: A diaphragm is a flexible, dome-shaped cup (made of silicone or latex) that is filled with spermicide and inserted into the vagina before sex to block the sperm from reaching an egg.
  • Cervical cap: A cervical cap is a reusable silicone cup that you fill with spermicide and insert into the vagina before sex. It blocks sperm from entering the vagina.
  • Male condom: The male condom is a thin, usually latex, disposable product that is applied over the penis and stops sperm from entering the vagina.
  • Female condom: The female condom can be placed inside the vagina up to eight hours before sex. It is designed to block sperm from entering the vagina.
  • Sponge: The sponge is a squishy (non-latex) plastic disc that is inserted into the vagina (much like a tampon) before sex. It should be used with spermicide and must be left in for at least six hours after sex, but no more than 30 hours total.
  • Spermicide: Spermicide kills or immobilizes sperm. It is often used in combination with other birth control methods, like the sponge, diaphragm, and cervical cap. It can also be used by itself.

Emergency Contraceptives

The copper IUD is a small T-shaped instrument that works as an emergency contraceptive if it is placed in the uterus within five days of unprotected sex.

There are also emergency contraception pills (morning-after pills) that must be taken within the same time frame to prevent an unintended pregnancy. This method may require an out-of-pocket cost.

Permanent Birth Control

There are permanent birth control options for men and women. For men, a surgical procedure called a vasectomy is performed. The female version of permanent birth control is an operation called tubal ligation, commonly known as "tube tying," which blocks the fallopian tubes and prevents sperm from ever meeting an egg.

What to Consider Before Choosing

Selecting birth control is a personal choice, so it's important to consider how different types will work with your lifestyle.

If you're a busy college student with an inconsistent schedule, remembering to take a pill at the same time every day might be difficult.

On the other hand, if you are a woman who lives by her calendar and has an established routine, it could be a great option for you.

Ultimately, the "right" method of birth control is the one you use consistently.

If You're a Minor

A very common concern among people under the age of 18 is having the discussion about birth control with their parents.

Some states allow minors to provide consent to obtain birth control without any conditions. Other states allow minors to provide consent in specific situations, such as if the minor is married or if the minor is a parent. A few states don't have any specific laws about this at all.

Check out the laws in your state to learn about consent for birth control.

Another important factor to consider is how birth control will affect your body. You know your body best, so it's important to ask your healthcare provider questions about possible side effects and speak up if you feel like something isn't right.

If You're an Adult

Talk to your provider about your health history to determine the best birth control option for you. Different types of birth control are not recommended for people with certain health conditions. Others can decrease in effectiveness depending on whether you have been pregnant before.

Getting an idea of what your insurance plan covers is another important consideration. Review your benefits to make sure the birth control options you've discussed with your healthcare provider are covered by your insurance plan.

Be aware that some states allow employers with religious affiliations not to cover birth control.

Where to Get Affordable Birth Control

Affordable birth control does exist, you just have to know where to look. You can start the process by visiting with or speaking to your primary care physician (PCP), but not everybody has access to a PCP.

If you don't have insurance or access to healthcare, there are other places where you can get affordable birth control.

Without Insurance

If you don't have health insurance, you can still obtain birth control through the following means:

  • Over-the-counter: You don't need a prescription for condoms or spermicide. You can obtain these nonhormonal birth control methods at a drugstore for a price, or for free at a local family planning clinic.
  • Pharmacy: Some states allow pharmacists to write a prescription for the pill, the patch, or the ring after the customer answers a few health-related questions. This means you don't have to worry about the cost of a full healthcare provider visit in addition to the cost of birth control.
  • Clinic: Your local public health clinic or Title X family planning program could be another route to obtain birth control without insurance. You might pay a bit out of pocket, but a lot of clinics offer financial assistance to those who qualify.
  • Patient assistance programs: Many pharmaceutical companies, medical device companies, and nonprofit organizations help uninsured patients have access to the medications and medical devices that they need at little to no cost.

With Insurance

If you have insurance either under the government-sponsored Health Insurance Marketplace (or your state's equivalent) or through your employer, your birth control should be covered by your insurance.

Some insurance companies will cover certain birth control options as either a medical benefit or a pharmacy benefit, so be sure to check both.

Having health insurance does afford those with coverage the luxury of having a variety of affordable and even free options available. If you have insurance, but don't have a PCP, the options listed above typically accept insurance as well.

Finding Coupons

Coupons to help with the cost of birth control are also available online.

GoodRx is a reputable site that offers coupons for free. Just search for the brand of birth control you have been prescribed and it will provide coupons to common pharmacies inside stores like Walgreens, Target, and Costco.

Your local pharmacy is another great resource to tap into. Ask your pharmacist about any coupons or rebates that are available.

Going Through Your Healthcare Provider

Before a provider will write you a prescription for birth control, they will ask you about your health history and get a quick blood pressure reading.

A full exam may be required for contraceptives that need to be placed by a healthcare provider, such as an IUD.

In Person

If you plan to get an IUD, diaphragm, or cervical cap, your healthcare provider will need to do a pelvic exam. Most other forms of birth control do not require it, but if you haven't had one in a while, your healthcare provider may suggest a full exam as a preventive measure.

For women who are considering the pill or another hormonal form of birth control containing estrogen, a healthcare provider will ask to take your blood pressure to make sure it is within the recommended range for the specific medication.

Birth control with estrogen is not recommended for people with high blood pressure, as it can further increase blood pressure and the risk of heart attack or stroke.

You can expect for the conversation with your healthcare provider to cover your health history as well as sexual history and habits. It is crucial that you advocate for yourself, so ask questions if anything your healthcare provider shares with you is unclear. Some women write down questions before the visit to help them remember.

Telehealth

The COVID-19 pandemic led to a huge rise in the availability of telehealth (accessing healthcare through electronic means) through computers and cell phones.

One preliminary study about telemedicine for birth control counseling found that 51% of women who used the service during the pandemic would use it in the future for its effectiveness and convenience.

You don't have to have a primary care physician to take advantage of telehealth. Online birth control delivery services have become very common. They are easy to access and act as a one-stop-shop by providing the consultation with a provider as well as the birth control itself.

Cost of Birth Control

Cost of Birth Control
Type Cost Efficacy
IUD $0–$1,300 99%
Copper IUD $0–$1,300 99%
Implant $0–$1,300 99%
Shot $0–$150 94%
Pill $0–$50 91%
Patch $0–$150 91%
Ring $0–$200 91%
Diaphragm $0–$75 88%
Cervical cap $0–$90 71%–86%
Sponge $0–$15 76%–88%
Male condom $0–$2 85%
Female condom $0–$3 79%
Spermicide $0–$270 72%
Permanent $0–$6,000 99%

Summary

With insurance or without, there are many low-cost or free birth control options available. The Affordable Care Act provides benefits for free birth control. There are also over-the-counter options as well as local clinics and assistance programs where you can obtain free or low-cost birth control.

A Word From Verywell

Getting birth control doesn't have to be uncomfortable, invasive, or expensive. Every person deserves fair access to birth control, regardless of income. There are many low-cost or free birth control options available to you to keep you safe and protect you from unwanted pregnancy.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Where should you go if you don’t have insurance?

    If you don't have insurance, you can get birth control through a public health clinic, a Title X program, or through your local pharmacy.

  • Is birth control free through the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare)?

    Obamacare, also known as the Affordable Care Act, requires states to provide free birth control and counseling, with some exemptions for religious employers.

  • How do you decide which type of birth control to use?

    Choosing birth control is a personal decision. It's important to consider your lifestyle, health history, sexual habits, and budget. If you have access to a healthcare provider, discuss your various options with them.

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11 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  4. Planned Parenthood. How does the copper IUD work as emergency contraception?

  5. Planned Parenthood. Which kind of emergency contraception should I use?

  6. Guttmacher Institute. Minors’ access to contraceptive services. Updated October 1, 2021.

  7. HealthCare.gov. Birth control benefits and reproductive health care options in the Health Insurance Marketplace®.

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  9. American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology. Do I need to have a pelvic exam to get birth control? Updated December 2020.

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