Colorado has become the third state to allow pharmacists to prescribe birth control, dramatically expanding access to contraceptive methods for the State’s 2.5 million women. Oregon and California opened access using similar laws in January 2016 and April 2016 respectively. Implanted devices, like Essure, are not being covered by any of these state-level programs.
Colorado’s New Birth Control Access Program Takes Off
Technically, birth control in Colorado will still require a prescription. The difference? Pharmacists, rather than medical doctors, will now be authorized to issue those prescriptions themselves. To participate, pharmacists in Colorado will need to complete a special training course. As the law makes clear, only women over the age of 18 will be eligible to receive pharmacist-prescribed birth control.
Prospective patients must be screened for pre-existing medical conditions and blood pressure. The results of these tests will help professionals determine eligibility and decide which drug is right for a given patient.
Colorado’s law, much like the statute passed in Oregon, allows pharmacists to prescribe women either pills or patches for a total of three years before the patient is required to visit a physician. California’s program, on the other hand, is broader. In California, women can NuvaRing and hormonal injections, in addition to pills and patches. Moreover, the State hasn’t placed an age limit on the service, allowing women of all ages to get birth control from a pharmacist for an unlimited amount of time.
Safeway Rolls Out New Pharmacist Program
On August 7, 2017, Safeway became the first major chain to implement a new birth control program across Colorado. Today, consultations at the supermarket-pharmacy cost $45 per patient, not including the cost of any birth control pills or patches that are actually prescribed. Businesses are being allowed to set their own prices for these “consultations.” As more and more pharmacies enter the market, competition will likely bring that price down. Wait times shouldn’t be much of a problem, either. A consultation at Safety, from a medical history form to prescription, takes around 25 minutes.
The public health impact of Colorado’s measure, writes Sally Rafie, PharmD at Pharmacy Times, could be enormous: nearly 45% of all pregnancies in Colorado are unintended. Making birth control easier to access for all women is one of the leading strategies to reduce that number.
The benefits of expanding birth control access may be particularly high for new residents of Colorado, according to Nikki Price, director for Albertson’s-Safeway Pharmacies. “There are so many people moving into the state on a regular basis that a lot of times,” Price told KWCH12, “you do have a gap in terms of finding a new physician and you may run out of your current birth control.”
Trump Presidency Spurs Debate On Contraception
The recent push for birth control access in state legislatures is widely seen as a response to proposed policies from the Trump Administration, which has expressed a desire to reduce the number of employers required to provide contraceptive insurance coverage.
The Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, gave around 55 million women access to free contraceptives, the National Women’s Law Center reports. Cutting that coverage off would cost American women an estimated $1.4 billion in co-pays. As we’ve seen, the nation’s most progressive states are hoping to head-off any impending change to federal healthcare policies by opening up birth control access themselves.
Will OTC Birth Control Become A Reality?
More controversial than the programs established in California, Oregon and Colorado is the ambitious project moving forward among some state lawmakers to transition birth control to a truly over-the-counter medication.
Convincing the FDA that contraceptive pills or patches are as safe as Tylenol or Advil will be difficult, says Britt Wahlin, vice president of Ibis Reproductive Health, an organization that funds and conducts research on women’s health issues. Ibis is currently heading up the efforts of a working group devoted to getting the federal agency to approve over-the-counter birth control and convincing insurance companies to cover it, Mother Jones writes.
The group has already notched two major victories. Partnering with a French pharmaceutical manufacturer, HRA Pharma, to research and develop an OTC birth control pill is one. Persuading Maryland State legislatures to pass a law that will force insurance companies to cover OTC birth control, if that becomes possible in the future, is another.[/fusion_text]