The D.C. Council gave final approval Tuesday to legislation that would require health plans to authorize the dispensing of up to a year’s worth of birth control at one time — a move that officials hope will decrease the rate of unintended pregnancies by making contraception more accessible.
Pharmacies in D.C. and most of the country can currently dole out only about three months’ worth of birth control at once. Under the new law, private insurers and Medicaid would be required to give out a full year’s supply.
A study published in Obstetrics & Gynecology in 2011 said it found a 46 percent drop in the likelihood of an abortion and a 30 percent decline in the odds of a pregnancy when low-income women who obtained contraception through public programs received a one-year supply of birth control. The new mandate should not affect premium costs.
In 2011, according to data from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 908 teenagers in D.C. gave birth — a rate of 92.8 out of every 1,000 people ages 15 to 19. That’s higher than the U.S. teen pregnancy rate, which was 31.3 births for every 1,000 between the ages of 15 and 19.
“We want to do everything we can” to reduce the teen pregnancy rate, said Yvette Alexander (D-Ward 7), who chairs the D.C. Council’s health committee. “We’re very in favor of women’s reproductive rights.”
During a hearing on the bill in February, supporters said the legislation would minimize some of the barriers for women to access birth control, particularly for women who live in underserved communities with fewer pharmacies.
“Nearly half of women using oral birth control receive only 1 month of pills at each appointment,” Noah Mamber, the public and legislative affairs manager for Planned Parenthood, testified at the hearing, according to a report from the health committee. “This creates a serious barrier to care for women who lack convenient access to a pharmacy or health center that dispenses contraception.”
Some criticisms leveled against the legislation are that people would not properly store the pills for the full year. Also, there’s potential side effects associated with the pill and, a year’s worth of pills at once, detractors argue, could dissuade people from visiting their doctors regularly. The bill does not prevent doctors from writing a one-month prescription if they are worried about effectiveness or side effects for a particular patient.
“A one-year dispensing requirement raises concerns with the overall efficacy of a medication that may not be properly stored for a year,” Geralyn Trujillo, the regional director of America’s Health Insurance Plans, said at the hearing. “This is why, within the private market, health plans strongly advocate that consumers who are on maintenance medications, such as contraceptives, consider the option of a 90-day supply with an auto-refill.”
Philip Barlow, associate commissioner at the D.C. Department of Insurance, Securities and Banking, said he had no problems with the bill.
This month, Oregon legislators passed similar legislation. It is awaiting approval from the governor.
The D.C. legislation received unanimous approval from the council in May. It was on the council’s Tuesday consent agenda for final reading and similarly passed.
It now goes to the mayor for her signature before heading to Congress for a 30-day review period.