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Birth control access being worsened by pandemic, doctors say

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Thousands of Arizonans are having trouble getting access to contraception and sexual health care amid the pandemic.

It’s a problem doctors have dubbed “contraceptive deserts” — when there aren’t enough health centers and pharmacies for women to go to for pregnancy prevention and other services they want or need.

It’s not a concept new to the pandemic, but the staffing shortages and supply-chain issues the pandemic has caused have worsened the problem.

According to Dr. Casandra Cashman with women’s telemedicine company Nurx, about half a million Arizonans live in contraceptive deserts.

Nationwide, Dr. Cashman says Nurx is seeing:

  • 50% increase in patients seeking birth control through the mail because they can’t get it in person
  • 120% increase in patients seeking at-home testing and treatment for sexually transmitted infections
  • An almost 200% increase in people seeking treatment for herpes
  • An almost 300% increase in people seeking emergency contraception

A lot of pharmacies have had staffing issues and trouble keeping up with prescriptions, leading to closures or long wait lines.

“They try to call and check and see if their prescription is ready, they’re on hold for half an hour or more, and no one answers. They go to the pharmacy and the line is literally winding around the store,” said Dr. Cashman. “I’ve heard things that in, you know, 12 years of medical practice, I never thought would be possible at a CVS or Walgreens or a retail pharmacy in the United States.”

Dr. Cashman said because of those problems, they’re seeing an increase in patients who want to use telemedicine and get the care they need virtually or delivered to their door.

Insurance can also be a limiting factor. About 13% of Arizonans are uninsured.

Although the concept is not perfect, Dr. Cashman said telemedicine can be a low-cost, time-sensitive option for some uninsured patients to get the services and prescriptions they want and need.

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