If you need emergency contraception, often called the “morning-after pill,” you probably don’t have a lot of time to shop around. So here’s some info about costs to make it easy for you.
Emergency contraceptive pills may still prevent pregnancy if you take them up to five days or 120 hours after unprotected sex. But the most widely available levonorgestrel pills — Plan B One-Step and its generic versions — are most effective when taken within the first 24 hours. The manufacturer advises waiting no longer than 72 hours. The pill can reduce your risk of pregnancy by 75-89% if taken within that three-day window. It’s important to act fast. But prices do vary depending on which kind of emergency contraception pill you take and where you get it.
First things first: emergency contraception pills are not the same as “abortion pills” and do not cause an abortion. The maker of Plan B, one of the best-known emergency contraceptive pills, says it works primarily by preventing ovulation. That’s similar to how regular birth control pills work: no egg = no chance of pregnancy. It’s also possible that the medication may prevent sperm from fertilizing the egg if your ovary has already released one. And if an egg has been released and fertilized, Plan B could possibly stop that egg from implanting in your uterus.
If a fertilized egg has implanted in your uterus, you are already pregnant and emergency contraception won’t work.
Can I get emergency contraception for free?
Possibly. A student health center, Planned Parenthood or your local health department may be able to provide emergency contraception for free or reduced cost, depending on your income. If you’re not sure how to find the local health department in your area, try these search tips.
If you have health insurance, you may be able to get emergency contraception for free if you have a prescription for it. Yes, you heard that right! Since the FDA approved Plan B to be sold over the counter in 2013, you don’t need a prescription to buy it. But most insurers will only cover over-the-counter drugs if a doctor prescribes them for you. So your insurance company may only pay for Plan B if you have a prescription for it.
However, there are two things to keep in mind about using insurance to pay for Plan B (or a generic version). First, you’ll need to ask your doctor for the prescription before you stop by the pharmacy. If you’ve just had unprotected sex and you need the medication ASAP, that extra step can eat up valuable time. Try calling your doctor’s office to ask if they can phone your prescription in to a nearby pharmacy without making you come in for an appointment.
Second, if you’re covered through a parent’s insurance plan, they may receive documentation that shows you received emergency contraception. If you would rather keep this private, try to get the medication from a free clinic or pay for it out of pocket instead.
I need to buy emergency contraception. Where is it cheapest?
Plan B One-Step and its generic versions are available at drugstores over the counter without a prescription. To save time, call the store first to check that they have emergency contraception. It’s worth asking the pharmacy if they have a generic version available, since these may be as much as $20-30 cheaper than the name brand.
Plan B One-Step costs $39.99 at Walmart, $39.99 at Target, and $49.99 at CVS, Walgreens and Rite Aid, according to their websites. The manufacturer offers a $10 coupon or a rebate if you’ve already purchased the medication.
There are several different generics that are just as effective as Plan B. Take Action costs $21.99 at Target, $34.78 at Walmart, $39.99 at Walgreens and $39.99 at CVS (where it’s called Aftera Take Action).
Rite Aid sells Option 2 for $39.99 and a two-pack of My Way for $59.99, bringing the cost of each dose down to around $30.
Your drugstore should carry emergency contraception in the family planning aisle (where they keep condoms). If you don’t see it there, ask at the pharmacy counter. As one blogger in Denton, Texas found out, some stores do a much better job of displaying emergency contraception than others.
What about buying emergency contraception online?
If you’ve just had unprotected sex, time is of the essence and buying Plan B or its generics online doesn’t make sense. You have a limited window to take the pill, so don’t wait for it to ship.
However, if you’re buying emergency contraception to have around in the event of, well, emergencies, you can save money (and peace of mind) by ordering online. Just be smart about where you shop. Amazon can offer tempting deals, but it’s hard to know where your medication is really coming from. Buyers have reported receiving expired emergency contraception. That’s against Amazon’s rules, as well as the FDA’s, but you can still find potentially sketchy cheap emergency contraception pills for sale on the site. Expired medicine may not work, which is especially scary when you’re taking it to prevent pregnancy!
A reputable online retailer is AfterPill.com, which sells a generic version of Plan B for $20 a dose (or $60 for a three-pack) plus $5 shipping. Consider buying in bulk to share with friends and save on postage. Expiry dates are listed on the website and are guaranteed to be at least 18 months away from the day you buy it.
Are Plan B and its generics the only option for emergency contraception?
Nope. There’s a newer emergency contraceptive pill, ella, that is available by prescription only. It typically costs a little more than Plan B, but it may be covered if you have health insurance. You can check prices in your area at GoodRx.com or BlinkHealth. Not all pharmacies stock ella, so make sure to call ahead. You can also get ella online for $67 plus free overnight shipping through a nonprofit initiative called PRJKT RUBY. They’ll process the prescription for you after you answer a few questions about your health.
Why would someone go to extra trouble (and potentially pay more) to take ella? It’s more effective than Plan B, reducing your risk of pregnancy by 85% if taken within five days of unprotected sex. It’s also a better bet if it’s been a few days since you had unprotected sex. Plan B is less likely to prevent pregnancy the longer you wait to take it, but ella is equally effective whether you pop the pill ten minutes after the condom breaks or up to 120 hours later. So while waiting for your Plan B to ship if you need it right now is a bad idea, it may actually be OK for ella.
The non-hormonal copper IUD (Paragard) can also be inserted as a form of emergency contraception. It’s best known as long-term birth control, but it can reduce your risk of pregnancy by more than 99% if you get it inserted within 5 days of unprotected sex. If you’re not using contraception right now or you aren’t happy with your current method, an IUD may make sense for you. For more info on what an IUD costs, go here.
I can’t or don’t want to go to the pharmacy. Can someone bring Plan B right to my door?
Yep, there’s an app for that. In some areas, including New York, Washington, DC, Chicago and Austin, you can get Plan B delivered on the delivery service Seamless, though it will probably cost more than picking it up at the drugstore, as BuzzFeed’s Caroline Kee reported not long ago.
Kee said one of the three New York bodega owners she talked to told her, “It’s more popular online than it is in store, which is interesting because we started stocking it for our customers who asked for it in person, but we make many deliveries.”