Policy Allowing Pharmacists to Prescribe Birth Control Heads to Governor

House Bill 2879 was a late session addition to the Legislature’s docket, but the persistence of Bend surgeon and Republican Rep. Knute Buehler, joined by the other physician legislators, has cleared the way for women to get the pill without needing a doctor’s visit.

Easy access to birth control is coming to a pharmacy near you.

The House gave final approval Thursday to House Bill 2879, which allows pharmacists to prescribe and dispense oral contraceptives and hormonal contraceptive patches from behind the counter. The 49-10 vote follows a 24-4 vote in the Senate on Wednesday.

“All the women on this floor voted for this bill. All women in Oregon will want this bill,” said Sen. Laurie Monnes Anderson, D-Gresham, in her succinct comments on the floor, putting the four Republican men who opposed the bill on notice. Three female Republican House members did oppose the bill, however.

A libertarian voice, Sen. Kim Thatcher, R-Keizer, said she hoped in the future that other prescription medications could be dispensed in a similar fashion from specially trained pharmacists without needing a doctor’s appointment.

HB 2879 delegates the rules governing the policy to the Board of Pharmacy, but in general, women will be able to skip a doctor’s appointment and complete a screening questionnaire to determine that birth control is right for them. The contraceptives will be covered by health insurers as preventive medicine, at no additional cost to the consumer at check-out, just as if they’d received a doctor’s prescription.

Teenage girls who want birth control will still have to see a healthcare provider to get on birth control, although once that’s done, they can go to a pharmacist for subsequent prescriptions.

The bill moved swift and late through the Legislature, after the championing of the policy by physician and moderate Republican Rep. Knute Buehler of Bend, who has likely statewide office aspirations. It complements another bill pushed by Planned Parenthood and female Democrats in the House that requires insurers to give women 12-month supplies of their established birth control prescriptions.

Buehler Would Not Let Policy Die

Buehler kept pushing the policy even as Democrats said it was likely a good idea for a future session.

“As people became more familiar with it, the support has grown,” Buehler told The Lund Report. “Oregon will clearly have the easiest access to contraceptives of any state in the nation.”

Buehler said HB 2879 was one of the best things the Legislature could do to reduce poverty, adding that half of all pregnancies are unplanned and studies from Europe have shown the policy  decreased unwanted pregnancies by 25 percent.

Like his wife, Rep. Gail Whitsett, R-Klamath Falls, in the House, Sen. Doug Whitsett, R-Klamath Falls, was the most outspoken opponent in the Senate, warning against bypassing a doctor and, potentially, cause harm with the risk of blood clots.

Sen. Chip Shields, D-Portland, also questioned the speed at which the bill was moving and complained that neither the House nor the Senate Health Committee vetted the bill although Shields ultimately supported it. The bill had gone through each chamber’s Rules Committees, which are chaired by the majority leaders and consider a hodgepodge of bills at the end of the session.

But Sen. Elizabeth Steiner Hayward, D-Portland, said that she, Buehler and Sen. Alan Bates, D-Medford, had all studied the science regarding pharmacist prescriptions and felt confident it was good policy.

“All three physicians in the Legislature are supporting the measure. Planned Parenthood agrees with it,” she told The Lund Report. “If that’s not enough of a health review, I don’t know what is.”

She said the risk of blood clots from birth control was real, but lower than than the risk a woman would have them in childbirth.

“I was extremely skeptical when this bill came forward. It’s been proved to be a safe way to go,” Bates said. “In my opinion, we have too many abortions. This bill will reduce the number of abortions and unwanted pregnancies.”

Oregon Pharmacists Ahead of Curve

Buehler told The Lund Report that although California passed a law allowing its pharmacists to prescribe birth control, the policy had gotten tied up in the rulemaking process and Oregon’s pharmacists will be much more equipped to dispense birth control without a prescription because of their long history of administering vaccinations.  

House Bill 2028, which also passed this session, allows pharmacists to dispense prescription smoking cessation tools and release some medications for traveling without a doctor’s note. That law also gives pharmacists clearer consent to assist customers with chronic medication management.

The Senate altered the bill to allow underage girls to receive the birth control pill directly from pharmacists starting in 2020. Until then, females under 18 will have to have first been prescribed oral contraceptives from a physician, physician assistant or nurse practitioner.

Five House members switched their votes from the first time HB 2879 passed the lower chamber; Rep. Andy Olson, R-Albany, and Rep. Betty Komp, D-Woodburn, supported the latter version but not the first. Three Republicans -- Rep. Cedric Hayden of Cottage Grove, Rep. Mike McLane of Prineville and Rep. Julie Parrish of West Linn, supported the first bill but voted against the Senate version.

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