In the midst of what seems to be a constant stream of bad news about the world in general, and access to women’s health in the U.S. in particular, some good news came down last week. Two states, Oregon and California, have made it much easier for women to get hormonal birth control. The New York Times reported:
Starting sometime in the next few months, women in California and Oregon will be able to obtain these types of birth control by getting a prescription directly from the pharmacist who dispenses them, a more convenient and potentially less expensive option than going to the doctor.
Pharmacists will be authorized to prescribe contraceptives after a quick screening process in which women fill out a questionnaire about their health and medical histories. The contraceptives will be covered by insurance, as they are now.
This development could mean easier and less expensive access to hormonal contraceptives (pills, patches and rings are included) because a doctor’s visit (and the associated fees) would no longer be necessary. But it’s possible that pharmacists may charge their own fees to cover the time it takes to review the questionnaire.
So while it may be cheaper than a doctor’s visit, it won’t necessarily be free — unlike the contraceptives themselves, which are fully covered by the Affordable Care Act as preventative care. The article estimates fees of between $25-$35 dollars could be added.
Another issue addressed by the New York Times article is that some advocates are concerned that this move may hamper efforts to get hormonal birth control available over the counter, without any prescription.
The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists is one of the few groups to express opposition to these laws, arguing that hormonal contraceptives should be available solely over the counter.
“My basic tenet is there should be nobody between the patient and the pill,” said Dr. Mark DeFrancesco, the president of the organization. “I’m afraid we’re going to create a new model that becomes a barrier between that and over the counter. I worry that it’s going to derail the over-the-counter movement.”
But advocates also acknowledge that getting to the over-the-counter option may take a long time, and the issue of cost is also relevant, as insurance plans are not required currently to cover over the counter drugs. (We saw a similar battle with emergency contraception, which is now available over the counter, but often costs $50 for just one cycle.)
As these new laws unfold, we’ll have to keep an eye on how they effect birth control costs. For now, though, women in California and Oregon will face one less hurdle when purchasing birth control.