Oregon Just Made A Big Move on Birth Control

July 12th 2015

Sarah Gray

The state of Oregon is doing something incredible for women's health. In just over a month it passed two major bills that greatly expand access to contraceptives, and this week, Oregon became the second state, following California, to enable women to go directly to their pharmacist to get birth control -- the pill or hormonal patch. It also became the first state to mandate that insurance companies cover 12-month prescriptions of birth control. Both bills will go into effect on January 1, 2016, according to Oregon Live.

Like many American women, I have been taking birth control ("the pill") since I was 18 years old. The reason -- whether to control a health issue, or just to prevent an unwanted pregnancy -- is both personal and irrelevant. For nearly 10 years the pill has been part of my daily routine, and every so often I have to head to my OBGYN to have my doctor refill yet another prescription. And I am not alone, the pill is part of the routine for many women in the U.S., and according to the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention reported in 2012, between 2006 and 2010, 62 percent of women surveyed were using contraception, and 17 percent women were on the pill (18 percent were on different forms of contraception, 10 percent were using condoms, and 17 percent had been sterilized). In 2012, the Guttmacher Institute reported that more than 9 million women in the U.S. used the pill in the previous month, and "four of every five sexually experienced women have used the pill."

After a recent move from New York to California, the simple act of getting the pill required finding a doctor, making an appointment, taking time from work for the appointment, paying a co-pay for the appointment, getting the prescription filled, and then dealing with a pharmacy issue (and a parking ticket). Prior to the Affordable Care Act, I would have also had to pay a sum for the pill. This is all time and money lost for a basic aspect of women's healthcare.

California's law passed in 2013, which allows women to go directly to their pharmacist for birth control, does not go into effect until later this year. If the bill had been in place, I would have just popped by my local pharmacy after work, picked the pill and been on my way. (Needless to say, I'm making the switch to an IUD.)

And I'm considerably lucky: this process is made all the more difficult for women who do not have access to healthcare due to cost, or whose employer does not cover the cost of birth control, or for those who cannot afford to take time off of work for a doctors' appointment or trip to a clinic such as Planned Parenthood.

Enter Oregon's (and California's) plan. House Bill 2879, signed by Gov. Kate Brown​ this week, will allow women over 18 years of age to be prescribed and provided birth control by their pharmacist, regardless of a previous prescription. Those under 18 will have to provide evidence of a previous prescription to receive the pill or hormonal patch from a pharmacist.

Oregon's second bill, House Bill 3343, which was signed back in June, "will make Oregon the first state in the nation to require health insurance companies to give a year's supply of the pill, the patch or the ring at the same time," according to a statement from Planned Parenthood Advocates of Oregon.

Access to contraceptives greatly reduces the number of unplanned pregnancies per year. "Two-thirds of U.S. women at risk of unintended pregnancy who use contraception consistently and correctly throughout the course of any given year account for only 5 percent of all unintended pregnancies," Guttmacher explains.

A 2011 study from the University of California, San Francisco, also found a "30 percent drop in unplanned pregnancies for women who have 12-month supplies of contraceptives instead of the typical 30- to 90-day refills many insurers currently cover," according to the Oregeon Live.

Despite the fact that birth control often spurs partisan rancor on at the national level, both Oregon bills had bipartisan support, and in fact HB 2879 was championed by a Republican and physician, Rep. Knute Buehler.