Anyone who is currently on birth control pills knows all too well the process that is necessary to obtain them. Currently only available via prescription within the United States, the common contraception is typically prescribed after a consultation and/or exam with your ob-gyn. But does it have to be this way? Will an over-the-counter birth control pill ever actually exist?
We can all agree it would be much more convenient if birth control pills were available over the counter, similar to how emergency contraception is. And now, there is a big push to have it available this way. Free the Pill (a project that is NOT funded by pharmaceutical companies or the government, and has no political affiliation; but instead is operated by the private nonprofit Ibis Reproductive Health) is currently working in collaboration with HRA Pharma to make over-the-counter birth control readily available.
Their goal? “We strive for a pill that is low cost, covered by insurance, and available to people of all ages without a prescription.”
So how would this work, exactly? Brides spoke with Britt Wahlin, vice president for development and public affairs at Ibis Reproductive Health, for more information.
One of the major reasons behind the push for easier access to birth control pills are the barriers that often get into the way and prevent women from being able to successfully obtain a prescription. According to Wahlin, these include, “costs related to a doctor’s visit, missing work, and transportation.” She adds, “Making birth control pills available over the counter will lessen financial burdens and make it easier for women to control their health and lives, regardless of how much money they have.”
As one might assume, having a prescription medication become available OTC is no easy feat. Wahlin explains, “For a birth control pill to go over the counter in the United States, a drug company must submit an application to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Ibis Reproductive Health is partnering with HRA Pharma to support the research needed for HRA Pharma’s application to the FDA.” A typical timeline within the FDA process (from the time a drug company begins an application process until a pill is available over the counter)—if successful—is approximately three to five years, Wahlin says.
The Deal With Insurance
As it stands now, under the Affordable Care Act, “most private insurers are required to cover OTC contraceptive methods used by women with a prescription from their provider," she explains. But just last month, the federal district court in Philadelphia had to block the Trump administration from interfering with said requirement under the Affordable Care Act.
Moreover, while private insurers may choose to cover certain contraception, many states don’t currently require them to do so. Though, Wahlin says, “this is starting to change in some places such as Maryland and Oregon, because it’s cost-effective for insurance companies to cover birth control, whether available over the counter or with a prescription.”
Food for Thought
Since it has always been available via prescription only, being able to access over-the-counter birth control may seem like a radical notion—but it’s really not. In fact, Wahlin says, “it is already available without a prescription in over 100 countries.”
Additionally, major medical organizations, including the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the American Medical Association, and the American Academy of Family Physicians, “support making birth control pills available over the counter as safe, effective, and beneficial to overall health and well-being.”