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New UMD program now pays for students' birth control

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A new state program at the University of Minnesota Duluth has begun picking up the tab for low-income students' birth control needs.

UMD health services nurse-practitioner Sharon Anderson said she was bothered by having to send some students to Planned Parenthood earlier this year, where family planning is free for people with low incomes.

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"Many of my students were not able to cover the cost of their birth control pills, either due to parents losing their jobs, losing insurance or just not having enough money at the end of the month," she said. "I was losing too many of my patients, and didn't feel they should have to leave campus to get a service we could provide for them here."

Birth control costs at UMD's health services rose in 2007, when federal legislation prevented colleges from offering inexpensive forms of birth control. Ending that legislation was an Obama administration initiative that went into effect in the past three weeks, Anderson said.

Anderson applied for the state family planning grant in the fall and UMD was added as a provider in January. Since then, 148 students have signed up. The program, called 4 Me at UMD, offers at no cost various methods of birth control, annual exams and laboratory costs, emergency contraception and sexually transmitted infection testing for students using services for family planning.

Students must be U.S. citizens, not pregnant and make less than $1,702 a month.

"It's a benefit to our students and we're excited to be part of it," said Kathy Morris, director of UMD's health services.

Students who have no insurance or aren't covered under their parents' insurance policies can receive free birth control. While annual exams always have been free at UMD, lab results have not. Sexually transmitted disease testing is only included if a student is there for an exam or to switch birth control methods.

"The goal of the program is to prevent unplanned pregnancies," Anderson said.

UMD is the only college in the area participating in the state program.

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