Oregon Poised to Become First State to Mandate 12-Month Birth Control Supply

HB 3343, promoted by Planned Parenthood, would cut down on the trips women need to take to the pharmacy and could reduce the risk of unplanned pregnancies by as much as 30 percent, according to one study. A separate effort could allow pharmacists to provide the medication with a prescription from behind the counter, similar to Sudafed.

A woman eligible for the Oregon Health Plan or the Oregon Contraceptive Care program can get a year’s supply of birth control pills at a single pharmacy visit.

But for women with private insurance, that’s often not an option, with frequent visits to the pharmacy every few months to get a refill of the same prescription, putting a woman at risk of lapsing on contraceptives that must be taken each day.

Oregon could become the first state to require health insurance companies to give a year’s supply of the pill, according to Planned Parenthood. House Bill 3343 calls for a three-month trial period for new contraceptive prescriptions, followed by 12-month allotments after that.

“We’ve been surprised in the Capitol by the number of women who have expressed their undying support for this proposal,” said Laura Terrill Patten, the executive director of Planned Parenthood Advocates of Oregon. “Women are busy, and this should be made a little bit easier.”

The House Health Committee passed HB 3343 on a 6-3 vote this week and it’s scheduled for a full House vote Tuesday. Unlike the comprehensive women’s health bill, which died after a dispute over abortion, the birth-control access bill seems poised for passage.

Alicia Temple, the policy director at Patten’s office, said a California study showed the rate of the risk of unplanned pregnancies fell by 30 percent when a woman was given a year’s prescription.

The bill faced some resistance from insurance companies including Providence Health Plan and Regence BlueCross BlueShield, which resulted in the compromise of a 90-day trial period when contraceptives are prescribed.

Alicia Temple of Planned Parenthood said HB 3343 will save the healthcare system as well as insurers money by cutting down on unplanned pregnancies and abortions. The pill can be prescribed for as little as $160 a year while a childbirth costs the system $15,000 to $27,000.

“Once you find out what works for you, you stick with it,” said Sen. Elizabeth Steiner Hayward, D-Portland, a family physician. She said it wasn’t a medication that was changed or adjusted often.

Temple said data from the state’s Contraceptive Care Program -- which provides free oral contraceptives and intrauterine devices for women earning up to 250 percent of the federal poverty level -- shows that only 1.2 percent of women use more pills than needed, indicating that they are not wasting them by switching prescriptions. “The number of women who are changing between medications are negligible,” she said.

The bill has attracted bipartisan support. Introduced by five female Democratic lawmakers representing various parts of Portland, Rep. Knute Buehler, R-Bend, jumped on board, helping to brandish his moderate credentials.

“The evidence I’ve seen shows a real decrease in unintended pregnancies with having that kind of access to oral contraceptives,” Buehler told The Lund Report. “The lasting benefit is clear.”

Buehler tried to take the Democrats’ policy initiative a step farther -- and allow pharmacists to prescribe birth control from behind the counter, similar to Sudafed. To get contraceptives, women would simply complete a screening questionnaire at their local pharmacy.

He made a last-minute attempt to amend that policy into House Bill 2820, which expands the scope of practice for pharmacists enabling them to help patients stop smoking, for example. Pharmacists can already give vaccinations to anyone above the age of 11.

Terrill Patten and Temple said they supported offering contraception over-the-counter and would work with Buehler and Rep. Val Hoyle, D-Eugene, on a work group to help craft the legislation that he sought. It’s unclear when they could produce legislation -- Buehler was hopeful to get something passed this session, while the Planned Parenthood representatives said it wouldn’t happen until 2016.

Buehler opposed a separate family planning bill -- HB 2678, which would have allowed nurse practitioners to perform voluntary vasectomies. “I kept asking for a study showing nurse practitioners would be as safe as physicians, but never got one.”

HB 2678 got snipped under opposition from the Oregon Medical Association and urologists, despite an attempt by Sen. Alan Bates, D-Medford, an osteopathic physician, to forge a compromise.

Temple said there was no study but plenty of data from Washington state showing trained nurse practitioners safely performing vasectomies at Planned Parenthood clinics for over a decade. “They have no increase in complaint rates. They haven’t had any malpractice suits.”

Editor's Note: The California study showed a 30% drop in the risk of unplanned pregnancies, not a 30% drop in unplanned pregnancies.

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