While many commonly used and not abused prescription drugs (such as Claritin, Nexium and Flonase) eventually became over-the-counter medications, one prescription in wide use since the 1960s has still required a doctor’s order: the pill. However, two states – California and Oregon – will now be allowing women to get birth control pills as an over-the-counter purchase from pharmacists without a prescription.
Women will not need to go to a doctor to obtain a birth control prescription and then go to a pharmacy to fill it. As of Jan. 1 in Oregon and March in California, women just need to go to a pharmacy, fill out a questionnaire and briefly consult with the pharmacist to obtain contraceptive pills or the patch. These are the first states taking action to broaden women’s access to reliable ways to prevent pregnancies. (The so-called morning-after pill, Plan B, to prevent unwanted teen pregnancies began being sold over-the-counter nationally.) Those under 18 will still have to get their first prescription from a doctor prior to being able to just go into a pharmacy.
In addition, Oregon is the first state to require that insurance companies allow women to fill an entire year’s worth of birth-control pills at one time, versus every month or quarter. This remedies the known issue that when women most pick up a refill monthly, some will miss a day or two if they do not refill the prescription on time.
An estimated 70 percent of the 61 million American women in their childbearing years (between 15 and 44) are sexually active and not trying to get pregnant. Birth control pills are used by nearly 10 million of them (the pill comprises approximately 25.9 percent of contraceptive use).
Over-the-counter birth control has several positive benefits besides convenience. Surveys had shown that about 30 percent of women had difficulty paying the costs for the pills (typically $15 to $50 each month or up to $600 per year) at some point in their life. This often led to inconsistent use of birth control. Other forms of birth control can cost even more. To remedy the financial difficulties for women, the pill is a now covered as free preventive care since implementation of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), provided the women is on one of the newer ACA plans.
The ACA sought to provide better access to preventive care and birth control, but a shortage of primary care doctors has made it difficult for many to see a doctor regularly. Furthermore, the high deductibles on many plans also may discourage women from seeking care. So, allowing women to get access to the pill at their convenience without having to see a doctor is really beneficial.
There is a catch in how the two states are working to implement the ability for women to purchase birth control over the counter at their local pharmacies. California passed its legislation last summer but is still working out the details of its plan. In Oregon, the state’s Board of Pharmacy finished writing their implementation rules in November and are now working to authorize pharmacists to provide the service. Reportedly, 150 pharmacists were authorized already and the state expects to have 800 in the program by late February.
Written and edited by Dyanne Weiss
Bustle: Over The Counter Birth Control Is Coming To These States In 2016
Willamette Week: Oregon Women Are About to Have the Best Access to Birth Control in the Country
Oregon Live: Birth control, sick leave and pumping your own gas: Oregon’s new laws in 2016
Planned Parenthood: Birth Control: We All Benefit
Guttmacher Institute: Contraceptive Use in the United States
NPR: California Women Can Soon Go Right To The Pharmacist For Birth Control
Photo courtesy of Parenting Patch– Creative Commons license