San Francisco startup launches “Uber for birth control”

For people living in the United States, obtaining birth control can be a complex and expensive process. A new San-Francisco-based app called Nurx launched last December and is offering a solution to getting birth control on time and at an affordable price.

Founded by Hans Gangeskar and Edvard Engesæth, Nurx is the latest in a long line of Bay-Area-based home delivery startups. Already being hailed as the Uber for birth control, Nurx delivers several options of birth control – including the ring, the pill and the patch – directly to customers’ doors in within a 48-hour-time frame, depending on their location. Nurx is currently available in California and New York, and is expected to expand nationwide in the next couple of years.

The app was created after the founders realized the amount of hurdles patients must clear to obtain prescriptions and refills on time.

“In most countries in the world, women are able to access birth control without a prescription, but not in the United States,” Gangeskar said in an email. “It doesn’t make any sense why it isn’t the case here. We absolutely believe oral contraceptives should be available over the counter in the United States.”

At SF State, students can make appointments at the Student Health Services to start birth control. SHS holds birth control drop-in sessions for students wanting to restart or continue their prescriptions at limited times Monday through Thursday. Prescriptions made at SHS expire after a year and must be renewed by the student, and SHS doesn’t send reminders about medication refills.

“What was frustrating was when my insurance didn’t let me get three to six months of birth control at once, and I had to go every month to get it refilled,” communication studies major Felicia Distad said. “Before Obamacare, I didn’t have insurance for a while, and my birth control was $56 a month. It was really important to me to make sure I didn’t get pregnant, so I paid it, but I know I’m really lucky that I could.”

Birth control and sexually transmitted infection testing and treatment is free for those enrolled in Family PACT, a government program that offers clinical services for family planning at no cost to California residents. Most students are eligible for Family PACT. However, Family PACT doesn’t offer family planning for people who engage in non-reproductive sex.

While SHS provides STI and HIV testing and hosts workshops about sexual health and safe sex, it currently does not offer the HIV-prevention drug Truvada. Nurx plans to start offering Truvada in the coming months.

“It’s important for us to offer Truvada through the app because this revolutionary drug is 99 percent effective in preventing HIV,” Gangeskar said in an email. “Unfortunately, Truvada (for) PrEP isn’t very accessible for those who need it most. We believe our app can be a game-changer in the fight to end the HIV epidemic.”

According to Nurx’s website, there are three main steps that patients must follow to receive birth control. First, the patient chooses their brand and type. Along with the standard contraceptives, Nurx also offers emergency contraceptives like Plan B One-Step.

Nurx provides information for all 55 contraceptives listed on their website, including how to use them, how they work, and the risks and benefits of each type. The founders say that users are also encouraged to utilize the app’s on-call doctors via chat, phone or video whenever they have a concern.

Next, the patient fills out a basic health profile, asking for weight, age, blood pressure and health habits, such as smoking. Currently, Nurx is only serving patients who are 18 or older.

Finally, the patient enters either their credit card number or insurance information, and a three-month supply of their contraception of choice will be on its way. Patients with insurance have no out-of-pocket cost. Those who either don’t have health insurance or want to pay are given options that cost around $14 for a month’s supply.

“I would consider using it,” said Daniella Uribe, a 24-year-old liberal studies major who is thinking about starting birth control. “It seems really easy and convenient. It would also benefit me a lot since I leave my car at home (because I’m) a student. I was really happy to hear about this coming to San Francisco.”

There are other health apps like Maven and Lemonaid that allow patients to receive consultations or fill out prescriptions to be delivered to their home or a nearby pharmacy for a flat rate, but Nurx is the first to offer consultation, prescription and delivery at no cost.

The emergence of these services is timely. In April, California will join Oregon as the second state in the U.S. to allow women to get birth control from pharmacies without a prescription. Under the Affordable Care Act, an increasing number of private insurers are covering the cost of birth control without co-pays or deductibles.

Still, the ease with which users can get birth control via services like Nurx remains an attractive option for many, and the founders hope that this new wave of accessibility will help change the view of birth control being something that is difficult and shameful to obtain.

“We want to make healthcare more accessible for people,” Gangeskar said. “We want to let people take charge over their own healthcare and to empower users.”