[SEATTLE] – (MTN) Sixty-one years ago, the FDA approved oral contraceptives, also known as the pill, as a form of birth control in the United States. Decades later, the pill has expanded as a tool to fight moderate to severe acne, control menstrual cycles, migraines, and endometriosis. The ability to access contraceptives remains a surprising challenge in the United States. Dr. Sophia Yen, co-founder and CEO of Pandia Health, is working to change that.
Pandia Health, a Bay Area based telemedicine company that recently expanded into Washington state, provides women reproductive health services through the Internet. “We bring birth control to wherever you have Internet and a mailbox,” said Dr. Yen. “If you could imagine in rural parts of the country where the nearest doctor is two or three hours away, this is a problem with access.”
The timing of this new choice couldn’t be better for western Washington residents. Planned Parenthood recently announced they were closing its Seattle First Hill, Shelton, and Kent facilities. The closures are due to slashed Medicaid reimbursements from the federal government, making continued operation impossible. Insurance rules on when patients can refill prescriptions adds to the complexity of maintaining reproductive health.
“For just $20 once a year, you have access for the entire year for any follow-up questions as much as you want. Most birth control pills are generic, so it’s less than 50 cents a day,” Dr. Yen said. “Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, if you do have insurance, no copay, and no deductible.”
The $1.9 trillion Save America package passed by the Biden Administration capped ACA premiums at 8.5% of income, and COBRA payments are covered 100% through September. These benefits and expanded enrollment will help reverse the trend of uninsured Americans, which added 2.3 million people under the Trump Administration.
Dr. Yen explained her company serves patients in ten states and can ship birth control to all 50 states and Washington D.C.. There is an additional benefit to telemedicine; legally, you don’t have to reside in one of the ten states served by Pandia Health. Suppose you’re physically in a state where a telemedicine physician provides services when you complete your online evaluation. In that case, you can have your birth control shipped to your home state.
“We’re promoting a kind of birth control tourism. If you happen to be in Seattle at the airport, you could fill out the questionnaire. Then we can deliver it to Kansas or Arkansas or whatever state you reside in.”
In 1988, the original high-dose birth control pill was taken off the market. Today a woman can choose from 40 different birth control pills, some with low-dose and high-dose variants, that use eight possible progesterones. If that sounds complicated, it can be. The medical community is just beginning to understand the differences these options can have on the BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and Person of Color) community.
“Medicine is based on a Caucasian female model,” she continued. “It doesn’t [account] for a person of color. We are looking and asking our customers to self-report their ethnicity so we can correlate it with side effects and see which birth control works best.”
Not only is Dr. Yen an advocate of female reproductive rights and services, but her company also has a program called Pandia Health Social Good. “If you can’t afford [birth control] and you can’t afford 50 cents a day to cover your birth control, you can apply to our birth control fund. And if you have money, you can donate to the birth control fund and take a tax deduction.”
Jennifer Smith contributed to this story.
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