Don’t Want Kids? New Chicago Startup Helps Provide Free Birth Control

When she's not sharing the housekeeping duties with her three roommates, 27-year old Melanie Rozwalka is keeping busy.

“I work full-time at a storage facility, I’m self-employed to clean houses … and I babysit as well,” she said while sitting at her dining room table.

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Rozwalka works multiple jobs to make ends meet, and she said she could not afford to support anyone else.

“Besides working basically three jobs, having to have all these roommates, I financially cannot afford it,” she said. “I can't afford birth control; I can't even afford health insurance. If I can't afford that, what makes you think I can afford a child?”

To avoid unplanned pregnancy, she turned to Juno4Me, a new Chicago nonprofit that connects women with birth control.

“I was a little skeptical – free IUD?” Rozwalka said. “Come on, there’s got to be some strings attached.

But her appointment was scheduled for a week later.

Soon, Rozwalka was the proud new owner of an intrauterine device, or IUD. And, it cost her absolutely nothing.

Juno4Me founder Kai Tao calls the organization a social impact startup.

It works by connecting women to reputable health care providers who provide an IUD or birth control implant.

Tao, who has also worked as a nurse midwife for more than 16 years, found that many women didn't know all of their birth control options, where to go to get counseling or care and, importantly, how to pay for it.

“You may have coverage, but you’re not sure how to navigate it: deductibles, copays, coinsurance – what does that all mean?” she said. “People don't want to take the financial risk, when they might end up getting a bill. They say, ‘I may as well just not do it.’” 

Once connected to the right provider, Juno4Me will even provide a free Lyft code so patients can get to their appointments using the rideshare app.

“We know there's a lot of payer sources that take care of birth control,” Tao said, noting programs like Title X and Medicaid. “Juno4Me says, ‘Let's make sure we leverage all the resources already covering birth control that you didn't know about.’”

If none of the available options covers a provider's basic cost of an IUD or implant, Juno4Me covers the rest through fundraising.

The organization is just a few months old but is already providing birth control for about three women per week – and is one of just a handful like it in the country.

While Tao said Juno4Me is especially beneficial to girls and women ages 15 to 24, any woman could benefit from the service.

“Anything that improves access for our women and improves their ability to be in charge and take care of their own health care is needed,” said Dr. Stephanie Cox-Batston, OB-GYN and chief medical officer for the Near North Health Service Corporation.

With an IUD, women like Rozwalka will not have to worry about having children for at least the next several years.

“Moments after the procedure was done, I started crying because I was so happy,” Rozwalka said. “I honestly got this IUD for no cost whatsoever. I literally hugged my gynecologist.”

Follow Brandis Friedman on Twitter @BrandisFriedman

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