Birth control has been covered by insurance since the Affordable Care Act took effect, but states like West Virginia still have high numbers of unintended pregnancies. So in the 2019 legislative session, West Virginia lawmakers passed a bill that will allow pharmacists to distribute birth control without a prescription from a doctor’s office.
The idea behind the legislation was simple – reduce the barriers to birth control and the number of unintended pregnancies might fall.
“Access to providers is something that limits some people to get birth control options and making it available to pharmacies in cases of low risk was something we wanted to do,” said delegate Joe Ellington, one of the bill’s sponsors. Under the new legislation, pharmacists can prescribe birth control to low-risk patients – screened with a questionnaire – for up to a year.
“And then the requirement we had in there was within a year’s time, they wouldn’t be able to get another refill until they’d gotten in with a provider,” Ellington said.
West Virginia is not the first state to pass such legislation. Pharmacists can prescribe birth control to low-risk patients in California, New Mexico and Tennessee, among a handful of others. Some states like California don’t have age restrictions for who can get over-the-counter birth control. In other states, like Colorado and West Virginia, you have to be 18 or older.
West Virginia has one of the highest teen pregnancy rates in the country, but Ellington said there were concerns in committee about prescribing birth control to minors without either parental consent or seeing that patient in a clinic.
“My concern was if you have a 13-year-old who is getting birth control pills, are there some other problems going on? Is this kid being bullied, being abused, why do they need them at that time?”
But, Ellington said, if the program is successful, legislators may consider revisiting the age limit for older teens.
Appalachia Health News is a project of West Virginia Public Broadcasting, with support from Marshall Health and Charleston Area Medical Center.