I Tried to Get Annovera for Birth Control and Ended Up Locked Into a Circuitous Insurance Nightmare
Are you interested in a year-long birth control ring? Well, good luck getting it.
For years, I’ve been on “the pill.” That’s a nondescript term for a nondescript medication; my specific prescription has been changed a half dozen times, often without telling me. Most pills are interchangeable. And while the birth control pill is a godsend to many, it comes with some complications — notably, mood-based issues and weight gain.
Whenever I go off the pill, I feel more energetic, both physically and mentally. Recently, I decided to experiment with a new year-long birth control ring called “Annovera.” Birth control rings give a lower, localized dose of hormones, and are consequently supposed to have fewer side effects attached.
Annovera is a completely legitimate medication. But it’s new; it just received FDA approval last year. And because of this, the route to get it became incredibly circuitous.
Annovera Knows That Annovera is Hard to Get
On Annovera’s site, they list three options: SimpleHealth, The Pill Club, and VitaCareRX. SimpleHealth doesn’t operate in my state, so I went through The Pill Club. Theoretically, they would review my medical data, write me a prescription, and then dispense me the medication.
The Pill Club’s pharmacy is run by an automated text messaging service that may be staffed by a malevolent AI. It was difficult to understand what they were trying to convey through text, but essentially: They submitted my claim and my insurance wouldn’t cover it. They sent me 12 messages asking if I wanted to pay $2,800 for Annovera or switch to another birth control method.
Annovera has a discount coupon on their site. I requested that The Pill Club use it. But The Pill Club stated that this could only be used if my pharmacy would cover it even a little.
A Minor Mystery
As an aside, when I checked my insurance claims, it looked like this:
THE PILL CLUB, Annovera, $2,800 — Covered $0
Amazon.com, Annovera, $2,800 — Covered $0
PostMeds Inc, Annovera, $2,800 — Covered $1,400
This was interesting because I had only gone through The Pill Club at this point. But The Pill Club insisted they had no idea where the other claims came from or why one claim appeared to depict 50 percent coverage.
A Journey to HealthCare.Gov
I have my own health insurance through HealthCare.Gov, and because of COVID-related reasons I did have the potential for changing my insurance. A cursory search through insurance companies found that no one covered Annovera, however.
At this point, VitaCareRX messaged me — they wanted to know if I had used the discount coupon. I responded that I couldn’t because my insurance wouldn’t cover it. They responded that actually, the discount coupon only covers people who aren’t covered by insurance.
However, VitaCareRX is a pharmacy, not a medical service. They couldn’t give me a prescription, they could only give me the medication. And that was only after my insurance company denied it.
Getting a Prescription for the Medication Already Prescribed
At this point, I had already been going back-and-forth with The Pill Club for about two weeks. It seems as though it wouldn’t be true, but it is; all their messages were an auto-response “Our pharmacists would get back to you,” and because of the game of telephone, the pharmaceutical reply was never useful.
I called my local doctor and asked for two things: One, I needed to extend my existing birth control prescription, and two, I wanted a prescription for Annovera.
“Oh, I can’t do that,” said the doctor. “That would be two prescriptions for one thing.”
“Oh. But I don’t want a gap between my birth control methods,” I said.
“I don’t know what to do for you. I can only give you one,” she said.
Then she paused and seemed to have a great idea.
“Oh! I’ll give you the birth control pill now,” she said. “Then you will have to call back in a week and get the Annovera prescription.”
“That… works?” I asked.
“That’s the only thing that will work,” she said confidently.
I’m still not certain exactly what this issue was — I’ve talked to doctors before and easily received two prescriptions for “the same issue” when weaning off one medication and going onto another. But that seemed like another dead end, until —
The Pill Club Sends My Prescription to VitaCareRX
This is an interesting one. At some point, I casually messaged The Pill Club to send the script I had acquired from them to VitaCareRX. But I didn’t expect that to work because I never even talked to a doctor or anything at The Pill Club, I never saw my prescription, and my own doctor said I couldn’t get a prescription for two things at once.
Still, at some point The Pill Club actually did, in fact, send my prescription to VitaCareRX. VitaCareRX called me on the phone about my insurance and confirmed that my insurance, in fact, did not cover shit, despite me paying a government-mandated $550 a month for it.
The price of Annovera with the applied discount coupon (which The Pill Club still insisted didn’t apply)? $480.
It’s Still Probably Too Expensive For Many
There’s a real utilitarian reason to want Annovera vs. other options. Annovera can be used as a year-long ring, which means it’s far less likely to forget than other methods of birth control. Because it’s a local hormone, it’s also less likely to lead to side effects (although, there may be some issues such as cramps).
My regular birth control pill is $12 a month (again, thanks, insurance that I pay thousands of dollars for a year). So, it’s a big leap from $144 to $480. But it’s also a bigger leap from $480 to $2,800.
At the end of the day, my insurance didn’t cover anything. But a random internet coupon provided by a partner to the pharmaceutical company was able to save me a significant chunk of change for seemingly no reason at all. This is exactly the problem with our current healthcare and insurance system.
There are no legitimate prices for any medication. There is no way of knowing how much you might pay. There are medications that require that you be declined by your health servicer. If my health insurance had covered it at 50%, I would have had to pay $1,400. But by denying me, I paid $480.
For me, it’s a mild inconvenience; it’s something that doesn’t hugely affect my day-to-day life. But if it was something like insulin — which under this system it very well could have been — the run around could have been devastating.