A new law in Washington state won’t expand pharmacists’ ability to prescribe birth control, but instead will help promote the few pharmacists who already provide that service.
It’s a dramatically scaled-back version of an earlier plan that would have allowed pharmacists to prescribe birth control to women on a walk-in basis, without having prior agreements with a prescribing doctor.
Supporters declared it a step forward for birth control access anyway.
“It’s a positive step forward to raise awareness about access to contraception,” said Sean Graham, lobbyist for the Washington State Medical Association. “But there’s more work to be done.”
House Bill 2681, which Gov. Jay Inslee signed into law Thursday, will create signs or stickers to place in the windows of pharmacies that are able to provide birth control without a doctor’s prescription.
About 40 pharmacists throughout the state can prescribe contraceptives now through contracts known as collaborative drug therapy agreements, according to the state Department of Health.
The most important piece is that women understand that pharmacies can do this in Washington. The next step will be increasing the number of pharmacies that do it.
State Rep. Melanie Stambaugh, R-Puyallup, who sponsored House Bill 2681
Supporters said the window stickers and signs will help women know where those pharmacies are.
State Rep. Melanie Stambaugh, the sponsor of the bill, said her goal all along has been to reduce the likelihood of unintended pregnancies by making it easier for women to access birth control.
She said letting women know there’s a way for them to get birth control directly from their pharmacists could prompt more women to ask for the service.
“They can go to their local pharmacy and ask ... ‘Can you get the authorization to do this?’ ” Stambaugh, R-Puyallup, said Thursday. “It’s an easy enough process for the pharmacy to do.
“The most important piece is that women understand that pharmacies can do this in Washington. The next step will be increasing the number of pharmacies that do it.”
Jeff Rochon, chief executive officer of the Washington State Pharmacy Association, said he hopes going forward that more pharmacists will enter collaborative drug therapy agreements to prescribe birth control.
It’s a positive step forward to raise awareness about access to contraception. ... But there’s more work to be done.
Sean Graham, lobbyist for the Washington State Medical Association
That might happen next year, when new state rules will require insurers to start covering more health care services provided by pharmacists, he said.
The agreements letting pharmacists prescribe birth control are similar to those that allow them to offer flu shots and immunizations, Rochon said.
“Years ago, patients didn’t know they could go get their immunization from their pharmacy,” he said. “Now, it’s very common for them to do so.”
But for people to take advantage of the service, they need to know it exists — which is where the window stickers come in, he said.
“If we can help advertise those services through these means, that’s a huge step forward,” Rochon said.
Another measure that failed to advance this year would have required insurers to pay for 12-month supplies of birth control, allowing women to get a year’s supply of contraceptives with a single pharmacy visit.
While that measure, House Bill 2465, cleared the state House on a 91-6 vote, it stalled in the Republican-controlled state Senate.
When you allow women to pick up birth control at the pharmacy once a year instead of every one or three months, that has a huge impact.
Erik Houser, spokesman for Planned Parenthood Votes Northwest, on failed bill that would have required insurers to pay for 12-month supplies of birth control
Erik Houser, spokesman for Planned Parenthood’s advocacy arm in Washington, said he was disappointed the Legislature didn’t pass the bill, which he said would have made it much easier for women to maintain their birth control routines.
“Women have a lot of constraints on their time, especially if you’re working multiple jobs or you have kids,” he said.
“When you allow women to pick up birth control at the pharmacy once a year instead of every one or three months, that has a huge impact.”
By comparison, the bill to use window stickers to promote pharmacists who prescribe birth control “has a minor positive impact,” Houser said.
“It’s positive we can start educating people more about that,” he said, “But it has nowhere near the impact that 12 months of birth control would have had on expanding access.”