Under a new law, District of Columbia women will be able to scratch one item off their list of things to worry about: running out of birth control pills.
Under the law, which passed its congressional review period this month, women will be able to get a year’s supply of pills at once.
Prescriptions for birth control pills typically have to be renewed every 30 or 90 days, potentially resulting in women missing scheduled pills. The yearlong provision will begin in 2017.
Earlier this year, Oregon became the first state to pass a law allowing women to get a year’s supply of contraceptives at once. That law takes effect next year.
Other states have considered similar measures, including New York, Rhode Island and Washington, says Elizabeth Nash, a state policy analyst at the Guttmacher Institute, a reproductive health research and education organization. In addition, a few state Medicaid programs currently allow women to receive 12 months of contraceptives, she says.
“It’s a bit of a no-brainer,” says Nash. “If you want to prevent pregnancy, you want to make accessible the methods to do that.”
Women who received a year’s supply of birth control pills were 30 percent less likely to have an unplanned pregnancy than those who received either a one-month or three-month supply of pills, according to a 2011 study published in Obstetrics and Gynecology. The study linked the number of packs of pills dispensed to 84,401 women in California’s Medi-Cal program in 2006 to the number of pregnancies and births.
Insurers have raised concerns about allowing the yearlong prescriptions. “Making sure women have access to the medications they need is critically important,” says Clare Krusing, a spokesperson for America’s Health Insurance Plans, a trade group. “But we do have concerns that an automatic one-year supply of these medications will pose safety and affordability issues for patients, particularly if a woman is picking a brand-name over a generic, for example, or chooses to stop using contraception and is left with potentially months-worth of treatments.”
The health law removed many of the barriers that women faced in their ability to afford birth control, says Gretchen Borchelt, vice president for health and reproductive rights at the National Women’s Law Center. The law requires most employers and insurers to cover all FDA-approved birth control methods without charging women anything out of pocket. Now legislators are trying to identify other gaps that need to be addressed.
“This law is going to make a difference for D.C.,” Borchelt says. “There’s a high teen pregnancy rate, and pharmacies that are not well located for low-income areas.”
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