New Bill Offers Affordable Birth Control — Minus The Prescription

Photo: Bill Clark/Getty Images.
Senator Patty Murray has a big idea: For contraception to truly be accessible, it needs to be more than just technically attainable — it needs to be affordable and easy to get. (Crazy, right?) To that end, the Democratic senator from Washington is announcing a new bill Tuesday called the Affordability IS Access Act, which would make FDA-approved birth control available over the counter — and have insurance cover it. "I believe strongly that women should be able to get the comprehensive health care they need without being charged extra, without having to ask permission, and without politicians interfering," the Senator said on a press call Tuesday. Murray's bill is in response to a bill put forth last week by Republican Senators Gardner and Ayotte that would also offer OTC birth control — with a catch. The GOP bill doesn't mandate that insurance companies cover that OTC contraception, meaning that while it might be accessible, it'd also likely be expensive. Senator Murray and others criticized the plan, saying it was a backhanded way of making contraception less available. Offering "access without affordability," Murray said, "is like offering somebody a single shoe. You need the pair." The Affordable Care Act already requires that birth control is covered by all new insurance plans, and about 55 million women can get theirs with no copay because of it. (Which is great, since otherwise, Planned Parenthood estimates the pill costs around $600 a year.) And, birth control is really safe. Mark DeFrancesco, MD, President of the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, says that, while no medication is entirely without risk, oral contraception is as safe or safer than lots of medication available at your neighborhood grocery store. Making birth control more readily available could have a big impact on the number of unwanted pregnancies. Per a recent study cited in the bill's press release, oral contraception distributed OTC with no copay could reduce unintended pregnancies among low-income women by as much as 25%. Plus, even with the current barriers in place, almost everyone uses it — literally. According to stats from the Guttmacher institute, over 99% of sexually active women aged 15 to 44 are currently on a form of contraception or have been at some point. And, that's all the more reason to make sure women can afford it. "But anyone will tell you that if something is too expensive, it doesn’t matter how easy it is to get," Sen. Murray says.“It might as well be on the moon."

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