A Step Ahead Chattanooga Reaches Milestone

Friday, July 28, 2017

In less than three years, A Step Ahead Chattanooga (ASAC) has connected 1,000 area women with free, long-term, reversible birth control.

The model used by ASAC to serve this many clients in just 34 months—more than one woman per business day—is straightforward. Eleven area medical facilities are now providing intrauterine devices (IUDs) and the implant that goes in the arm at no cost to the women who are interested. ASAC then reimburses these 11 medical partners for any costs not covered by other means, whether it’s the full cost for a woman with no insurance, or a portion of the costs for a woman who is underinsured. The birth control devices last three, five, or 10 years and are 20 times more effective than the pill, patch, or ring.

“By giving women access to free and highly effective birth control we are providing the opportunity to plan a first or next pregnancy,” said ASAC Board President Alicia Oliver. “When a woman becomes pregnant only when she feels ready, she can pursue an education, further a career, take care of her family, and live life on her terms.”

Recent client Carolina Calderon agreed with Ms. Oliver. “We are a family of five plus a dog. With three beautiful daughters, my husband and I decided to try something more long term, without a surgery. Since we have moved several times to different states, we had to make some changes to our insurance. We are currently a one-income family, and trying a Mirena [IUD] was near to impossible. I couldn't believe when they told me at the clinic not to worry about my insurance, that it was free!”

According to ASAC Executive Director Rachel Schulson, clients are directed to partner medical facilities through a volunteer-staffed appointment line (423-265-STEP), or they can call from a listing at www.astepaheadchattanooga.org. If needed, free door-to-door transportation is also available. Women who live or attend school in Hamilton County or Bledsoe, Bradley, Franklin, Grundy, Marion, Meigs, McMinn, Polk, Rhea, and Sequatchie counties are eligible.

“We are so proud to be changing the conversation about birth control in Chattanooga,” said Ms. Schulson. “Almost 99 percent of American couples of child-bearing age have used birth control at some point, but it can still be an uncomfortable topic to discuss. We must talk about it, though. One of every two pregnancies is unintended. In addition to helping women stay on the path to success, effective birth control results in healthier birth spacing and reduced infant mortality,” she said, adding that ASAC also makes financial sense for the state. “The estimated annual savings to the state of Tennessee when one TennCare recipient receives an IUD or implant is roughly $8,800.”

A Step Ahead was initially founded in Memphis by Claudia Haltom, a South Pittsburg native who served as a Shelby County Juvenile Court magistrate for nearly 17 years. Judge Haltom, who worked with women and families, saw firsthand the social, health, and economic consequences of unintended pregnancy. Schulson led the effort to bring a similar model to Chattanooga, and in 2014 ASAC began serving area women.  It is funded by donations from individuals, churches, and national and local foundations, including BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee Health Foundation, First Tennessee Foundation, Lillian L. Colby Foundation, the Women’s Fund of Greater Chattanooga, Benwood Foundation, and the Weldon F. Osborne Foundation.

ASAC will be recognized as a Champion of Health Care at a community lunch for the medical community on Thursday, Sept. 21. The Champions of Health Care program recognizes excellence, promotes innovation, and educates the community about best practices to enhance the value and quality of health care in the Chattanooga Metro area

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