Pharmacists Could Soon Provide OTC Birth Control Pills

JUNE 16, 2015
Ryan Marotta, Assistant Editor
A new bill introduced in the US Senate would permit pharmacists to dispense birth control pills without a prescription.
 
Senate Democrats led by Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) recently unveiled the Affordability Is Access Act, which would allow FDA-approved oral contraceptives to be provided over-the-counter. The bill also expands upon the Affordable Care Act (ACA) contraceptive mandate by requiring insurance companies to cover OTC birth control without new costs.
 
“I believe strongly that women should be able to get the comprehensive health care they need when they need it, without being charged extra, without asking permission, and without politicians interfering,” said Sen. Murray in a press release. “Making approved birth control pills available over-the-counter is another important step forward in terms of women’s access to health care.”
 
The results of a recent Pharmacy Times poll were split on whether pharmacists should be permitted to prescribe oral contraceptives. Half of the poll respondents said they should, but the other half disagreed.
 
In Congress, support for OTC access to oral contraceptives has emerged from both sides of the aisle, as Senate Republicans led by Sen. Cory Gardner (R-CO) proposed a similar bill last month. While both bills would make birth control pills available without a prescription, the Republican proposal would allow women to pay for the medication through health savings account while restricting it to those aged 18 years and older.
 
Additionally, the Republican bill excludes specific language that would bolster the ACA mandate, although it does allow for insurance reimbursement for women with health savings accounts.
 
This proposal drew considerable criticism from Democrats and reproductive rights groups, who claimed that the bill was an attempt to undermine the ACA by reinstating financial costs for women seeking birth control.
 
“Access to birth control doesn't mean much unless it's affordable access,” stated Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards. “You can make birth control available over the counter, but if it still costs $600 a year, it will be out of reach for many women.”
 
At the state level, 2 separate bills passed by Oregon legislators aim to ease access to oral contraceptives.
 
House Bill (HB) 2879, which would allow pharmacists to dispense birth control without a prescription, was passed by the state House of Representatives, while HB 3343, which would allow women to pick up a 12-month supply of birth control in a single visit, was unanimously approved by the state Senate.
 
“It makes no sense that men should have unrestricted access to contraceptives, while women must first get a prescription from their physician,” stated HB 2879 sponsor Rep. Knute Buehler in a press release. “…If a woman wants to purchase birth control at her local pharmacy, she should be able to do that without having to schedule an appointment with a doctor.”
 
If both bills are signed into law, Oregon could become the first state to make oral contraceptives available without a prescription and give women access to a full year of birth control. A 2013 California law, Senate Bill 493, permits the state’s pharmacists to prescribe birth control, but the measure has not yet been implemented.
 
HB 3343 will now be sent to Oregon Gov. Kate Brown to be signed into law or vetoed, while HB 2879 will be voted upon by the state Senate.
 
 


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