Is Plan B easily accessible at UMass?


Mark Dunphy/Amherst Wire

Plan B on the sales floor at CVS on University Drive.

AMHERST — Courtney’s friend didn’t know whether the condom had slipped or broken. She was worried and confided her fears to Courtney. A couple days later, Courtney went to University Health Services and purchased Plan B to assuage her friend’s anxiety.

“She was worried that she might run into someone that she knows, that it was going to be really awkward, or maybe she would be judged,” said Courtney, a recent University of Massachusetts graduate who asked to be identified by her first name only. “Or that she would run into another student who knows the person she was having sex with and tell [them].”

Plan B One-Step is an emergency contraceptive pill, available to UMass students at UHS. The pill reduces the likelihood of pregnancy if taken within the first 72 hours after unprotected sex.

Emergency contraceptive pills are more effective the sooner they are taken, according to data published by Pediatric Child Health in 2017. Plan B is 95 percent effective if taken within the first 24 hours of a contraceptive emergency. The efficacy decreases to 85 percent when taken between 25 and 48 hours, then falls again to 58 percent when taken between 48 and 72 hours.

At UMass, students can purchase Plan B at the UHS Women’s Health Clinic or the pharmacy. The Women’s Health Clinic is open Monday through Friday, 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., and closes daily from noon to 1 p.m. The pharmacy is open from 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. during the academic semester.

Students can also obtain Plan B by making an appointment with a nurse in the general walk-in clinic Monday through Friday 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., and Saturdays and Sundays 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.

When Courtney bought Plan B, she walked down a long hallway to the pharmacy — past tables, bookshelves stocked with health products and students sitting in the waiting area.

“At the window there’s someone to go talk to, and you have to walk past all of that, which feels kind of awkward, to get to the back pharmacy area,” Courtney said.

She looked for Plan B on the bookshelves stocked with other health-related products.

“I assumed the Plan B would be out with feminine products like in other retail stores,” Courtney said. “It was not.”

The CVS Pharmacy on University Drive stocks Plan B on the sales floor for $49.99. At UHS, Plan B costs $25.00 plus tax over the counter, per signs at the pharmacy window. The generic brand, EContra EZ, costs $14.99 plus tax. There is no cost with a prescription, which students can obtain at UHS.

If you bought Plan B with a prescription at a pharmacy, certain insurance companies will reimburse your purchase. UMass insurance may reimburse the purchase, depending on the pharmacy. Insurances do not reimburse emergency contraception purchased over the counter, as laid out by the Affordable Care Act.

The morning-after pill required a prescription for girls 16 years old and younger until 2013. In Tummino v. Hamburg, a federal judge ordered the morning-after pill be made available to all ages over the counter.

Today, college students across the country are innovating how women and men access reproductive health services. Stanford University students made public “wellness machines” that stocked the generic version of Plan B, and similar machines were installed at several California universities.

Closer to home, Brandeis Pro-Choice, an activist organization at Brandeis University, installed such a vending machine and are in the process of filling it with health products — including Plan B. In their machine, the emergency contraceptive will be available for $5.

“Our primary goal was to get 24-hour access for students,” said Susannah Miller, a senior Brandeis student and the president of Pro-Choice.

“Also, to normalize Plan B as a really important —but normal — part of reproductive healthcare. Making sure that students can get it privately, anonymously,” Miller added.

Pro-Choice funded their vending machine through a grant provided by Planned Parenthood Generation Action, of which they are an affiliate chapter.

There is no wellness vending machine at UMass.

Dr. George Corey, the executive director of UHS, said he would look into the possibility of bringing one to campus.

“I think there are ways to improve,” Dr. Corey said.

Courtney described her experience at UHS as “unfriendly and awkward.” She was not aware prior to her visit, nor was she informed during her visit, that Plan B is free with a prescription. She said she was confused about the different brands of emergency contraception and wished there was a pamphlet with information about Plan B, its generic counterpart and the price differences.

Courtney noted the social stigma associated with obtaining emergency contraception, as well as the general discomfort people experience when going to get Plan B and the ways friends lean on one another in these situations.

“It’s almost like how you would imagine going to get an abortion with your friend,” Courtney said. “Would you ask a friend to go with you to pick up birth control?”

Email Elizabeth at [email protected], or follow her on Twitter @MsLizDonoghue.

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