By Amy Fan, MPH
Amy Fan is the president and co-founder of Twentyeight Health, an Ovee affiliate.
We can’t seem to talk about anything but the coronavirus these days. However, when it comes to the impact of COVID-19 and access to sexual and reproductive care, this is not a topic we should simply brush off. With social distancing, closure of non-essential businesses, and disruptions to supply chains, many people are not only facing restrictions to get sexual and reproductive care but also are worried about being able to afford birth control with the prospect of losing their jobs.
Global impact of COVID-19 on sexual and reproductive health access
Globally, over 214 million people want to prevent pregnancy but are not using modern contraception. With strains on the healthcare system, overburdened healthcare workers, and disruptions to supply chains, it is even harder for people to access reproductive and sexual healthcare. “No one stopped needing sexual and reproductive health care in a public health crisis,” acting Planned Parenthood president Alexis McGill Johnson said during a press conference on March 30th. “People still have sex. They still need birth control, STI testing and treatment, and access to safe and legal abortion.”
“People still have sex. They still need birth control, STI testing and treatment, and access to safe and legal abortion.”
There are contraceptive shortages predicted around the world. According to the United Nations, many contraceptive manufacturers in China are not back to full capacity after many factories were shut down during the peak of the pandemic in the country. Additionally, the supply of raw materials, including hormones used in birth control such as progesterone, are impacted and manufacturers have had to find new sources. Family planning manufacturers DKT International have seen stock-outs of implants in Myanmar and predict a condom shortage in Mozambique.
Response to COVID-19 in the US
Unfortunately, some politicians are also using this as an opportunity to add more restrictive measures for reproductive and sexual health. On March 17th, Ohio’s governor ordered the cancellation of all nonessential medical procedures and Ohio’s deputy attorney general ordered clinics that provide abortion to stop providing any services that require personal protective equipment. Texas and Alabama followed suit.
Texas Governor Greg Abbott stated the abortions did not qualify as “essential” care and procedures would be postponed during the coronavirus outbreak. Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton followed up specifying that any medical worker providing abortion care before the order’s expiration date of April 21 could be fined $1,000 or face jail time of up to 180 days. Furthermore, Paxton ordered clinics to stop issuing medication abortion to patients, which can be provided through telemedicine. While judges have struck down the ban in Ohio and Alabama, Texas appealed in the Fifth Circuit, which has allowed the ban to take effect.
In addition to restrictions, affordability becomes a bigger issue. There was a record-shattering 6.6 million jobless claims last week and even more jobs are at risk. For people who are employed, they are even more worried than before about taking time off to go to the clinic or pharmacy for sexual and reproductive care. Moreover, many may be worried about losing insurance and may be unable to pay for contraceptives out-of-pocket.
Leveraging Telemedicine to Improve Access
The message is clear from healthcare workers — as much as you can, stay at home. It is not only safer for you, but it helps to reduce the risk for the most vulnerable populations. Social distancing is critical to help slow the spread and — the buzzword of this era — flatten the curve. With shelter-in-place policies in effect in many areas, telemedicine is a safe and convenient way for people to get birth control.
Twentyeight Health provides just that. It takes 5 minutes to fill out a medical questionnaire that was created based on CDC guidelines. At that point, the questionnaire is reviewed by a board-certified doctor. If you have more questions, you can schedule a free audio consultation with the doctor or directly message them on the platform. After the doctor writes the prescription, it is delivered to your house within 3 days. Additionally, you have continued access to the doctor even after you get your prescription. This means that if you have any questions about how or when to take birth control, side effects, or switching to another brand or method, the doctor is here to support you.
At Twentyeight Health, all the patient data is securely stored with encryption. Any medical information is only shared with the doctor. Messaging with the doctor is also 100% confidential -- only you and the doctor have access to it.
If you are worried about getting enough birth control, Twentyeight offers up to 12 months worth of birth control per delivery with or without insurance. As health plans respond to the COVID-19 outbreak, they are also changing their policies. Twentyeight’s customer experience team will work with your insurance plan to get the latest coverage, which oftentimes means more birth control covered. This is especially beneficial if you are worried about losing your insurance coverage during this time.
Additionally, Twentyeight works with a non-profit partner that can cover the cost of birth control for uninsured people who meet their financial-needs eligibility.
During the COVID-19 crisis, we want all women to have access to birth control. We are waiving the doctor consultations fees for a new or updated prescription with the code GIVE28. If you have questions about how we can help you, simply email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
About Twentyeight Health
We are a team of doctors, public health experts, designers, engineers and builders committed to changing the face of healthcare for women. Our mission is to increase access to reproductive and sexual health for all, making it convenient, affordable and empowering.
Amy Fan is the co-founder and president of Twentyeight Health. Amy was inspired by her experience leading a DTC skincare startup to bring the human-centric approach in beauty to healthcare to build a better patient experience. She is passionate about women’s equity, in healthcare, the workplace, and beyond. She holds a Bachelor of Commerce from Queen’s University and an MBA & Masters of Public Health from UC Berkeley.