A previous version of this article contained an error of attribution and several factual errors, the description of which can be found at the bottom of the article. A corrected version of the story is below:
After four years of using the same birth control provided through Student Health Services, at no cost to her, Carolyn Polansky was shocked and confused when she was denied her birth control pills at the start of the fall semester. She is one of many students who have started a new semester unable to refill their prescription.
“I had no idea my birth control wasn’t covered anymore, nobody ever told me,” said hospitality and tourism major, Carolyn Polansky. “I’m on Vestura because I’m anemic and have anxiety and it’s one of the only brands that doesn’t make those things worse and actually helps. There’s more reasons for birth control besides having sex.”
According to University spokesperson Jonathan Morales, SHS sent an email in June to the 179 students affected by the changes to Family PACT.
SHS no longer provides seven of the 24 brands of birth control pills for free under Family PACT. Students must either switch their birth control brand, use an outside insurance provider accepted at the Health Center’s pharmacy to cover the cost or pay out of pocket, which can cost upward of $75 per month.
In order to switch birth controls, students must make an appointment to see a doctor and go through their sexual and medical history, which can be time consuming for students who planned on picking up a refill, which takes about 10 minutes.
“In the past, Family Pact used to cover almost everything,” said SHS pharmacist Benson Jen, RPH. “As of June they changed their formulary (a collection of prescribed forms) to be consistent with the MediCal formulary, which is much stricter.”
According to Family Pact’s website, their purpose is “to provide comprehensive family planning services to eligible low income (under 200% federal poverty level) men and women.” This applies to many college students who either do not have jobs, or work part time and don’t make much money while in school.
SF State’s Family PACT representative declined to comment on the change in birth control coverage.
Brands no longer covered by Family Pact include: Zarah, Monessa, Vestura, Trinessa Lo, Lomedia, Estrostep Fe and Amethia. While some of these brands have alternatives offered through SHS and covered by Family Pact, many are not covered nor offered at SHS, and prescriptions would have to be filled at a different pharmacy.
According to Planned Parenthood, using condoms as the only form of birth control is only 82% effective, while using the pill or an IUD is 99.9% effective for preventing pregnancy.
“I was told (by SHS) I could just use condoms or go to Planned Parenthood if I couldn’t pay for my birth control,” Polansky said. “I’m either going to go there or switch to an IUD, which I’ve never wanted to do but they are basically forcing me by making this so complicated.”
Benefits of birth control beyond contraception include treatment of painful periods, PMS, acne, hair loss, anemia, ovarian cancer, migraines, hormone regulation and more, according to the American Society for Reproductive Medicine.
While SHS accepts over 90 insurance plans, many big box providers like Blue Shield, Cignan and Kaiser are not accepted, according to a list posted at the SHS pharmacy. For students like Polansky who depends on birth control to help with anxiety and anemia, limited access poses a very real threat to their health, beyond just birth control.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article incorrectly attributed Benson Jen’s statement to SHS pharmacist Lien Ho. Additionally, Jen disputed saying “There’s no way around it,” referring to Family PACT’s changes in coverage. Due to an editing error, the article also misquoted pharmacist Jen saying, “As of June they changed their formula to be consistent with the MediCal formula which is much stricter,” when Jen said instead “As of June they changed their formulary to be consistent with the MediCal formulary, which is much stricter.” Another quote was removed due to a miscommunication between the source and the reporter. The article also gave the impression that big box providers like Blue Shield, Cignan and Kaiser were no longer accepted, when in fact they have never been accepted, according to University spokesperson Jonathan Morales. Lastly, the previous version of this article didn’t include the information that student health services sent an email in June to the 179 students affected by the changes to Family PACT.