Last week, the American College of Gynecologists recommended that birth control be offered over the counter. Could this be a win-win solution to the growing unrest about forcing institutions that oppose birth control to offer health insurance plans that cover it?
In its decision to advocate for over-the-counter birth control, ACOG wrote: “after reviewing evidence of risks and benefits, easier access to oral contraception may reduce unintended pregnancy rates, as well as the economic burden and health care costs pregnancies cause.”
The committee cited access issues (e.g., not being able to fill a prescription in time) and cost as the primary barriers to appropriate use of oral contraceptives. Plans are still hypothetical, but ACOG noted that on average, uninsured women now spend around $16 per pack on oral contraceptives.
If approved, birth control would not be covered under insurance just as condoms aren’t. Nonetheless, would this be an easier pill to swallow, so to speak, for both sides? The fact is that Republicans are not opposed to women having access to oral contraceptives, but its disconcerting from a religious freedom perspective that organizations that are morally opposed to birth control be forced to provide it (or be forced to provide insurance that provides it).
The majority of women can afford the $16 per month for hormonal birth control (and some insured women pay more than $16 as a co-pay for birth control); however, for those who could not afford the$16 per month, women’s health organizations could offer coupons or perhaps even sell birth control at a reduced cost. This would almost completely eliminate the need for institutions with religious objections to covering birth control from having to do so, while still allowing access to birth control for women of across the socioeconomic spectrum.
Still, the concept isn’t perfect. ACOG acknowledged and addressed, some of the concerns expressed by patients and doctors about offering birth control without a prescription.
If this plan advances, the United States wouldn’t be alone in making birth control an over the counter drug. Right now, birth control is available over the counter without a prescription or screening in more than 30 countries, including Greece, China and India. Its also “informally” available over the counter even thought it technically requires a prescription in many countries, like in Mexico and Russia.
The FDA is willing to move forward with necessary studies and asked companies to come forward to discuss. As far as we know, no pill manufacturers have come forward yet. Will drug manufacturers play ball?
While preserving women’s health is paramount in this discussion, it’s a discussion worth having as it has the potential to solve several hot-button issues.