Young Women Attending Community Colleges Concerned about Contraceptive Costs, Study Finds

September 14, 2021

Older woman talking to young women sitting in front of computer

WASHINGTON, DC (September 14, 2021)—Many states have adopted policies to increase access to the full range of contraceptive methods for those with low incomes, but do their residents know about and use these programs? In a study selected as the Editor's Choice for the September/October issue of Women's Health Issues, the authors surveyed young women attending community college in California and Oregon about their contraceptive cost concerns. They found that although both states have expanded family planning services for low-income individuals, many of the young women who could benefit from these programs still expressed concerns about contraceptive costs.

Women’s Health Issues is the official journal of the Jacobs Institute of Women’s Health, which is based in the Department of Health Policy and Management at Milken Institute School of Public Health (Milken Institute SPH) at the George Washington University.

Jennifer Yarger of the University of California, San Francisco and colleagues surveyed sexually active women aged 18-25 from five community colleges in the San Francisco Bay Area and Portland, Oregon. Nearly half of participants (49%) agreed with the statement “If I wanted to use birth control, I would worry about the cost”—although those with private insurance were less likely to express that concern. Although 81% reported that they knew where to get free or low-cost birth control, only 34% had heard of their state family planning program, the authors report.

Federal and state programs offer ways for people with low incomes to obtain affordable contraception, the authors note. The federal Title X family planning program provides grants to health centers that allow them to provide free or reduced-fee family planning services. California and Oregon have extended Medicaid eligibility for family planning services to those with incomes up to 200% and 250% of the federal poverty level, respectively. “A number of different strategies are needed to educate students about how to access reduced-fee or free contraceptive services through their state family planning program, Title X, Medicaid, or other public programs,” the authors write. 

Most health behavior studies involving students focus on those at four-year colleges, but one-third of U.S. undergraduates attend community college, Yarger and her colleagues point out. “Addressing concerns about contraceptive costs among community college students may help them to experience greater reproductive autonomy and to be able to access contraceptive services when needed as they work toward their educational goals,” they conclude.

“This study demonstrates that having strong policies around contraceptive affordability is not, on its own, sufficient,” said Amita Vyas, Editor-in-Chief of Women's Health Issues and associate professor of prevention and community health at Milken Institute SPH. “We must also ensure that people know about affordable options for contraception and are able to access them.”

Concerns About the Cost of Contraception Among Young Women Attending Community College” has been published in the September/October 2021 issue of Women’s Health Issues.