For the past year, Jenifer Lucia, the Physician Assistant and Clinical Facilitator of Gynecologic and Gender-Affirming Services at Vassar Health Services, has been conducting a new initiative that provides students access to long-acting reversible contraception (LARC), such as IUDs and implants. Before 2021, LARC was unavailable on campus, and students seeking related services were directed to off-campus gynecology offices. In a joint written correspondence, Director of Health Services Margot Schinella and Lucia stated, “Improving reproductive healthcare accessibility for our students continues to be a fundamental goal for this department.”
Despite the initiative’s relative success, Lucia explained that she is still facing obstacles making LARC as accessible as possible. Baldwin House does not carry an inventory of LARC, meaning that students must order devices directly from the manufacturer. Although Lucia closely supports students through this process, individuals must still finance the device with their personal insurance. If an insurance plan covers LARC as a “speciality pharmacy benefit,” students will not incur a cost. On the other hand, if the plan covers LARC as a “medical benefit,” students must pay for the services themselves, a notably expensive procedure. Lucia added, “In addition to insurance obstacles, there is often a delay in obtaining devices due to the need for prior authorizations and other various forms of documentation that are required to complete the order.”
In a written correspondence, Co-President of Vassar Voices for Planned Parenthood (VVPP) Hannah Oppenheim ’23 recognized the barriers posed by insurance. She responded, “This should not be the case, and Baldwin is taking strides to mend the issues associated with providing sexual health resources for students with financial barriers.” For example, Oppenheim explained, “Lucia is willing and available to work with students—regardless of insurance status—to discuss [the] birth control options available to them.” She also pointed out that unlike non-campus providers, Lucia does not charge students for the medication associated with LARC procedures. Lucia and Schinella emphasized, “We are also actively communicating with community partners to streamline any off-campus referrals that are needed.”
Still, Louisa Gear ’25, Secretary for VVPP and Campus Health Organization for Information, Contraception and Education (CHOICE), asked, “What could be done if we were giving gynecological services and gender-affirming care more funding?”
Along with Vassar Health Services, student organizations like VVPP and CHOICE are working to widen access to sexual health resources. Felicity Rakochy ’23, the other Co-President of VVPP, specified the organization’s goal in a written correspondence: “We are committed to accessible contraception, sexual health education, and reproductive rights at Vassar and in the surrounding community.” She detailed, “VVPP seeks to create a safe space for people to discuss sexual and reproductive health and inform students about resources that are available to them, on and off campus.”
CHOICE and VVPP have similar objectives. President of CHOICE Ainsley Smith ’24 stated in a written correspondence, “Our main goal is to help keep the student body healthy and safe by making safer sex supplies easily accessible!” Distinctly, CHOICE conducts a service in which students can anonymously order condoms, dental dams, lube and other relevant supplies to their dorm for free. CHOICE also supplies Baldwin, the LGBTQ Center, student fellows and the Office of Health Promotion and Education with the aforementioned resources.
Regardless of their work, “Access to gynaecology, STI testing, prescription contraceptives, and much more are all essential parts of sexual health that a student-run club obviously cannot provide,” Smith noted. Further, Gear questioned whether student organizations are doing the work that Vassar should be responsible for, given the crucial role CHOICE plays in making non-LARC resources easily available.
While Gear recognizes the value in student groups identifying problems on campus and organizing effective responses themselves, she explained, “Student organizations are an important part of Vassar’s inner workings to a certain degree, and then it’s the responsibility of the institution to be providing for us.”
She posited: “Is it a lack on the part of our institution that we are relying on the free labor of students to have access to something that is vital for the health of the community?”