The founders of Illinois Contraceptive Access Now, or ICAN. From left to right: Katie Thiede, Kai Tao and Meg Lassar. Photo provided.

While Illinois may lead the fight for reproductive health in the Midwest, that doesn’t quite mean that care is always accessible for all Illinoisans. Illinois Contraceptive Access Now is trying to change that.

Illinois Contraceptive Access Now, or ICAN, is a statewide initiative to advance reproductive health equity by improving the quality and coverage of contraceptive care. ICAN provides birth control education and connects users with community health centers. 

ICAN launched in January 2021 after both Kai Tao, principal of impact & innovation and Katie Thiede, executive director, noticed the vast disparities around birth control access and education.

“It was shocking to me that people would still come to me with these stories of misconceptions and myths,” Tao said.

ICAN works within three pillars: first – their work with community health centers, what they call quality hubs; second – policy work to advance reproductive care and access nationwide; and lastly, community engagement and education.

Working with community health centers in intentional ways helps create a more sustainable approach to contraceptive access and quality. ICAN has created relationships with clinics such as Erie Family Health Centers, Near North Health and PCC Community Wellness to connect patients to reproductive access care.

“Cost shouldn’t be a barrier to birth control,” Tao said. With or without health insurance, ICAN has worked with quality hubs to ensure that those seeking birth control can access care through a network of resources and clients will never be turned away.

Most of the time when patients go into primary care providers, reproductive health isn’t discussed. ICAN wants to create a new standard by destigmatizing contraceptive care and starting that conversation. 

“We know that there are 500,000 individuals in Illinois that fall into the contraceptive coverage gap and are facing barriers to getting contraceptive coverage and access,” Thiede said.

The contraceptive coverage gap affects people of color, young people, rural people, low-income people and others who endure inequities in reproductive health. ICAN has an initiative to reduce the coverage gap by 50 percent in the next five years by improving state policies, health infrastructure and digital innovation.

Approximately 1.5 million Illinois residents are birth contraceptive users, meaning that one-third of users fall into the contraceptive coverage gap.

ICAN created a birth control quiz within the PATH framework, a patient-centered model designed to help providers and staff engage in conversation with patients and clients about their sexual and reproductive health.

Clients can take the quiz to find out what contraceptive method works best for them. Then, they can put in their zip code and enter other basic information to find care in their area. ICAN will communicate with clients via email or text and if needed, clients can request “phone a friend,” a ten-minute conversation slot with an ICAN representative to ask questions about birth control access.

Required questions are whether they have insurance coverage. The answers to choose from are: Yes I think so, No, or I don’t know. Thiede explained that the wording is purposeful.

“We also want to help people better understand their coverage and how to use the coverage they have or may qualify for,” she said.

ICAN does not measure their work in how many Illinoisans use birth control, but rather if and how they are receiving patient-centered care and contraceptive counseling – the true foundation for higher quality care. While the number of birth control users may rise, it doesn’t always mean they are each getting the most equitable care they deserve.

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Sam Stroozas

Sam Stroozas is a writer and the calendar editor for Rebellious Magazine. Follow her on Twitter @samstroozas.

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