To Her Credit offers targeted advice about personal finance based on unique challenges faced by women. It is authored by women with different financial backgrounds, dedicated to encouraging empowerment through financial literacy.
Over the past few years, the uninsured rate has risen in America, especially for women. The Gallup National Health and Well-being Index that was released in early 2019 showed that the number of uninsured women in America rose from 8.9% to 12.8% from 2016 to 2018. This means millions of women are having to choose between paying thousands of dollars in out-of-pocket costs and forgoing important preventive health care measures such as contraceptives, STD testing, cancer screenings and more.
Even women who are insured face uncertainty in coverage, higher premiums, greater out-of-pocket costs and occasionally outright discrimination.
It’s no secret that the current administration has come under fire throughout the last three years for its attempts to dismantle the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and make changes to policies regarding women’s health care. While the ACA is still standing, budget cuts, policy changes and increased taxes have certainly altered the effectiveness of the plan and put a strain on some women’s access to affordable preventive health care.
With insurance coverage for women’s health care a hit or miss depending on your location, insurance provider and employer, many women are wondering what the potential costs could be if they aren’t covered.
This guide can help you navigate the extra costs many women face when looking for health care options.
See related: The pink tax: What it is and how you can battle it
The cost of preventive health care for women
No matter your political opinions regarding the state of the U.S. health care system, no one can deny the astronomical costs associated with women’s preventive health care.
For women who are uninsured or have minimal insurance coverage, preventive health care such as contraceptives, STD testing, cancer screenings and overall reproductive health care can cost hundreds or thousands of dollars out-of-pocket. This means many are unable to afford basic medical care for women-specific issues like prenatal care, effective birth control methods, genetic testing or fertility treatments.
Perhaps the most common (and controversial) form of preventive women’s health care is birth control. Contraceptives are used for more than just pregnancy prevention; many abstinent women still utilize birth control to regulate their menstrual cycle and combat hormonal fluctuations.
With many options on the market, costs can vary widely depending on what method you choose. Cheaper options such as oral contraceptives (commonly referred to as “the Pill”) or the Depo-Provera shot can cost between $200 and $600 per year without insurance. While many doctors recommend generic versions to help patients cut costs, those generic drugs can occasionally cause undesirable side effects.
Contraceptive implants and intrauterine devices (IUDs) run between $800 and $1,000 for those without an insurance provider that covers the device or procedure. These devices are typically more effective, have fewer side effects and usually last between three and five years, making them more cost-effective in the long term than some other options. The high upfront costs, however, can put a major financial strain on many budgets.
Vaginal rings are actually the most expensive form of common contraceptive methods, with brands such as NuvaRing costing patients up to $1,000 per year.
Though most insurance plans are required to cover birth control, they don’t have to cover all birth control brands, except when one is deemed medically necessary. Since results for individual women can vary from brand to brand (and even between brands and their generic counterparts), women with insurance can still face hurdles trying to find the birth control that works best for them and paying for it.
These costs don’t even include what doctor’s offices or clinics may charge for appointments, tests or consultations that are often required for women seeking birth control.
Annual checkups, STD testing and cancer screenings*
Typically, insurance covers annual checkups, STD testing and cancer screenings. Under the ACA, yearly pelvic exams that often include Pap smears and cervical cancer screenings are fully covered by insurance.
However, for those without insurance or for those who have a plan predating the ACA that requires a high deductible before coverage kicks in, it can cost anywhere between $50 and $200 per exam, test and screening. The costs vary depending on what state you live in and which doctor’s office you schedule an appointment with.
Coverage availability and out-of-pocket costs are varied for breast health checkups, screenings and preventive measures.
Mammograms are almost always fully covered by insurance, but they cost $250 out of pocket on average for those without an insurance plan.
According to BreastCancer.org, testing for PALB2, BRCA1 and BRCA2 costs between $300 and $5,000, depending on where you go to get tested and how extensive the genetic test. Preventive surgeries for those with a high risk of breast cancer, determined through genetic testing or an evaluation of family history, can cost between $15,000 and $55,000 for those without insurance coverage.
Preventive surgeries such as mastectomies aren’t always fully covered by insurance, either. Even women with premium insurance plans can end up paying 20% or more of the overall cost for mastectomies and similar procedures. Others may have expensive deductibles to meet before insurance fully covers medical costs. Some insurance providers may not cover any of the costs if they deem that the surgery is not a medical necessity.
Many women turn to fertility clinics to help preserve their ability to have children when they are diagnosed with cancer or at risk for cancer. Fertility treatments such as freezing your eggs can be expensive whether or not you have insurance coverage.
According to National Public Radio, harvesting eggs costs around $10,000, freezing and storing your eggs costs approximately $500 per year and IVF treatments to become pregnant when you’re ready to unfreeze your eggs can cost $5,000. That is a huge financial undertaking for women without insurance, and even women who have insurance plans can end up covering a percentage of those costs themselves.
Hormonal therapy for postmenopausal women*
According to the Mayo Clinic, hormone replacement therapy for menopausal and postmenopausal women can help prevent bone loss and protect long-term health. However, insurance companies may not deem hormonal therapy a medical necessity, meaning even women with insurance coverage may end up paying for it out of pocket.
Costs associated with hormone therapy vary depending on the type of therapy you choose and the regimen your doctor recommends. On average, women can expect to spend $1,500 a year for consistent treatment.
Managing payment options for women’s health care
For unexpected or larger medical costs, some might consider using a credit card to help them afford costly medical expenses. However, using a credit card to pay for large medical expenses can harm your credit score and cost you more in the long-term because of higher interest rates.
While small monthly costs such as The Pill might make sense to charge (especially if you can earn rewards on those purchases with cards like the Bank of America® Cash Rewards credit card), there are other options available for paying for preventive health care measures out of pocket.
If your employer offers health plans, you probably have access to an FSA. Patients can contribute up to $2,650 each year to pay for co-payments, deductibles and other health care costs. Some employers also contribute to employee accounts.
This money is not taxed, helping patients save money on health care.
Planned Parenthood offers affordable women’s health care, including wellness visits, contraception, STD testing, cancer screenings and more. If you don’t have insurance, Planned Parenthood may have alternative payment plans available to you. Many women also qualify for free for low-cost services at Planned Parenthood centers.
Medical credit cards offer a payment plan option for patients by offering “no-interest” promotional periods based on how much you charge. For example, if you charge a $1,000 IUD on a medical credit card with a six-month promotional period, you could pay off the debt interest-free for less than $200 a month.
However, for those who don’t pay off their debt within the promotional time frame, deferred interest and higher APRs can end up costing patients.
If your yearly income is at or below 250% of the federal poverty level, your insurance doesn’t cover screening exams or you meet certain age requirements, you might qualify for free to low-cost health care services from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).
Local NBCCEDP programs offer services such as:
- Breast exams
- Pap smears
- Pelvic exams
- HPV screenings
- Diagnostic testing
- Referrals for treatment
One of many additional costs associated with womanhood
Preventive health care costs are steep, but they are among many additional costs women face every day. If you have a story about managing these costs in your own life, we want to hear it. Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
See related: The hidden cost of being a woman