Last year, I was in California visiting family and stopped into a CVS. Waiting in line, I noticed a sign saying you could see a pharmacist for a consultation and prescription for birth control there without a doctor’s prescription. The cost was $39.
I was intrigued, then impressed, that California streamlined access to birth control by giving pharmacists authority to prescribe it. Currently, 24 states have enacted laws to permit pharmacists to prescribe and dispense self-administered hormonal birth control.
Fair questions have been raised about patient safety, pharmacist training, cost, and potential fragmentation of care. So it’s important to note that in states that allow this practice, pharmacists are required to follow evidence-based recommendations, counsel purchasers on preventive services, and make referrals to other providers if necessary. Training programs provide pharmacists with the information they need to safely provide birth control. Most important, pharmacist-prescribed birth control increases access to care; patients want this service.
It’s time for New Jersey to join these states and let pharmacists provide birth control. Access to quality contraceptive care is an essential health care service directly associated with reductions in unintended and high-risk pregnancies. Accessible birth control also furthers safe spacing of pregnancies and reduces rates of maternal and infant mortality. It just makes good sense to reduce barriers to safe, self-administered birth control.
The research from other states where these laws have been implemented shows that the women who obtain birth control from a pharmacist continue to seek out other primary and preventive care.
Right now, there is legislation moving in New Jersey (S. 275 A.4149) to create a standing order to allow pharmacists to provide self-administered contraceptives (pills, rings, and diaphragms) to consumers. The participating pharmacists would have to go through training as required and developed by the State Board of Pharmacists and the State Board of Medical Examiners.
Issues still exist around payment for the pharmacist providing consultations and birth control. And while the pending legislation is not specific, we want to see these services covered by all forms of state-regulated insurance. We must ensure that change improves health equity and access to those with the most challenges obtaining timely health care services.
We welcome the focus now on this important issue and we urge action. New Jersey should join the 24 states making birth control easier to obtain.