December 1, 2015 — A New York Times editorial praises Oregon and California for enacting laws that "are about to allow patients to get [contraception] from a pharmacist without seeing a doctor first," and urges other states to "consider similar moves."
According to the Times, pharmacists under the Oregon and California measures (HB 2879, SB 493), will be allowed "to prescribe pills, patches and rings after screening patients for possible risk factors like smoking or a history of blood clots." The editorial explains, "Pharmacies are more plentiful in many areas than doctors' offices and clinics, and they often have longer hours, making them a more convenient option. The change could help reduce unintended pregnancies, especially for low-income women who might have trouble traveling to see a doctor or getting time off for an appointment."
The editorial notes that the Oregon legislation is scheduled to take effect in January 2016, while California's law is expected to take effect in April 2016. Meanwhile, according to the editorial, a "pharmacy chain is pushing for a similar bill in Nevada, and efforts to introduce one are underway in New Mexico as well."
The editorial disagrees with arguments that "the need for birth control acts as an incentive for women to visit doctors for regular Pap smears and other screenings," contending that "one form of health care should not be used as coercion for another."
The editorial also addresses concerns raised by the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists that the Oregon and California laws could "hamper efforts to make birth control pills fully available over the counter." However, the editorial notes that while "[b]irth control pills meet the Food and Drug Administration's criteria for over-the-counter safety," no drugmaker "has yet applied to the Food and Drug Administration to sell a birth control pill over the counter ... and such an application, once submitted, would take years to be approved."
Further, the editorial notes, "Over-the-counter status might ... jeopardize insurance coverage, since the Affordable Care Act [PL 111-148] mandates coverage only if a patient has a prescription." According to the editorial, conservatives "have introduced a bill (S 1438) that could speed up the process of applying for over-the-counter status, but it does not require insurers to cover the purchases," while liberals "have introduced a bill (S 1532) that would require such coverage."
The editorial concludes, "In the meantime, laws like those in California and Oregon could help many women get the contraceptives they need" (New York Times, 11/28).