This blog post is inspired by my personal experience, as a female Atlas Corps Fellow, in her sixth month of Fellowship in D.C, on a “travel plan” insurance (our insurance is as basic as a travel insurance). Therefore, I’m writing to share with you what I learned from a broad “market research” while browsing many different options of Health Clinics to find out their prices and services regarding Women’s health issues (precisely, consultation about Birth Control pills and Pap Smear Test). Hope this post helps to guide you through a smoother journey to your health needs as a woman, prior and post arrival in the States, especially if you’re serving in DC.
Pre-arrival to the U.S (for future Atlas Corps Fellows):
- Read carefully the docs emailed to you by Atlas Corps regarding our Health Insurance plan and be very cautious about its conditions (such as the fact that it only covers NEW- non pre-existing- emergency cases) – read here: a), b), c).
- Forget the mindset of “Oh, I’ll get a new prescription/ another “X” health examination in the U.S…”! Bare in mind that you signed up to live for one full year (or more) in one of the most extreme capitalist countries of the world, offering a non-existing balance between health care ridiculous high costs, access and service quality (online source)
- Go through any kind of health examination – routine health checks that can be due within your year in U.S/ full body check-up/ blood analyses/ gynecological examinations, etc. prior to your arrival in U.S!
- Bring the tests results with you
- Have extra medicine on you (if you will need 12 packs of birth control pills for the year – bring more with you!). You might extend or not, but you might also lose any, etc. Birth Control pills brands vary from the country, so you won’t be able to find the exact same one in U.S and more importantly, you need a prescription to get them from the pharmacies in U.S!
Post-arrival or “When there’s no Turning Back” (for current or future Atlas Corps Fellows serving in DC, that will be looking for women’s health care services):
If your health concern is not an emergency issue that needs urgent care, your Insurance plan won’t cover you. But, health is health and no matter what, you will go to the Doctor and then pay those bills or…
So, here are some ways around to what is not covered by our insurance (you don’t show your insurance), to help you avoid too much drama on top of your existing health drama, as a woman:
- STI/STD tests – get them for free at Whitman-Walker Health, no appointment and no insurance required! Just walk in and get tested. We (as Fellows) do not qualify for their “sliding scale fees”, so this is the only service we can get from them for free or with reduced prices.
- Birth Control Pills Consultation – if you are considering going on birth control while in U.S/ you want to continue getting the one you were using, from pharmacies in U.S/ you want to change it – you need a Doctor’s prescription!
- If you know the type (hormone and dose) of the birth control pill that you want to get, then try this online app: NURX – they offer free prescription and delivery, you just have to pay the for the cost of the pills. Don’t forget that brands are different from those in your country.
- If you are not in a rush and you’re open to any kind of birth control pills, you can try the Urgent Care, by:
- SHOWING YOUR INSURANCE (MedStar Prompt Care health centers are in our Insurance’s Network and covers our urgent matters) and
- presenting the issue as a non pre-existing health condition and giving clear symptoms directly related to such medication. Present you situation, with symptoms such as: your period became irregular since you got in U.S and your facial skin is breaking out (because of this hormonal disbalance). In this case, they should be able to prescribe you a birth control pill for free and then, you might have to pay for purchasing the pills from the pharmacy.
- if you are in a more urgent matter (let’s say, you’re running out of the pills you were using back in your country or you want to change the pill for the next month, etc.) there are only a few options on your plate:
- Planned Parenthood – the one in NE charges $80 per consultation and $12 per birth control pack, whereas the one outside the city qualify us for their “sliding scale fees” and we are eligible for 40% of the above regular prices (based on our monthly income). They have their own brands, so the price for the pills and the reduction is restricted only to those brands. The trick here is that you could qualify even for a higher reduction percentage, since you are not asked to prove your income, so you can easily claim a smaller amount than your monthly stipend!
- Unity Health Care – it’s not only specialized in Women’s Health, as the one above; it’s very hard to schedule an appointment because it’s a community health center; if you choose to walk in they don’t guarantee that you’ll be seen that day; but they apply “sliding scale fees”, after you present your proof of income and with that reduction, a consultation would cost around $80.
- In any of the above cases:
- Say you don’t have insurance
- Don’t go to Medics USA (they don’t recognize our insurance company, although they are in the network; they charge $150 per consultation and they require you to take the Pap Smear Test + a Physical Examination in their clinic, in order to give you a birth control pill refill prescription)
- Don’t expect the Doctor to spend time with you, talking and listening to your concerns – the service is not the best anywhere.
- Pap Smear Tests (if you are due one or you think you need one)
- If you think you need one because of new circumstances that have affected your feminine health, you might try the first scenario as above, with the Urgent Care health centers. If you show severe symptoms of an STI, then they might ask you to go through a Pap examination and this could qualify for a coo-pay between you and our insurance. However, this is not determined at all.
- If you are due a Pap Smear Test/ you need one, then the best option for you would still be Planned Parenthood. Their regular price for a Pap Smear is $108 and if you are a new patient, then you’ll have to pay as well an $80 fee for consultation (which can be reduced based on their “sliding scale fees”).
- All other clinics have higher prices, starting from $200 only for the Pap Smear test (not including the consultation fee, which you pay when you enter the clinic, where you will be examined for the Pap Smear)
These pieces of advise are based on my personal research and navigation, after calling at least 20 health centers and clinics in DC area and walking in in at least 5 of them. The ones that you might see online, but don’t see them mentioned here will not be your best options. I decided to write this text to make your lives easier when looking for these specific services and not waste at least 2 intense weeks researching the market and getting misinformed.