Senator Murray Introduces Bill to Dramatically Expand Birth Control Access

Measure expresses support for making oral contraceptives available over-the-counter, would guarantee health insurance coverage for oral contraceptives made available without a prescription

(PRESS RELEASE) Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) was joined by over 20 of her colleagues today in introducing the “Access is Affordability Act”—a measure which would ensure oral contraceptives approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for over-the-counter use would be covered in health insurance plans without co-pay.  This policy builds on the tremendous gains made by the Affordable Care Act (ACA) in guaranteeing no-cost birth control is covered by insurance plans. 

“In a nation where nearly half of all pregnancies are unplanned, far too many American women are facing an uphill battle in trying to control their fertility and plan their families,” said Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights.  “Senator Murray’s bill is a common sense solution that would jumpstart the conversation around dramatically broadening over-the-counter access to contraceptives for all women, regardless of age or income.  We look forward to working with the Senator, her colleagues, and our partners in advancing this bold and critical policy.”

The determination as to whether a drug should be made available without a prescription lies with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). This bill encourages manufacturers of birth control to apply to the FDA for over-the-counter status, and for the FDA to review and approve any such application if the product is deemed safe and effective for use without a prescription. Most importantly, the measure would ensure that the millions of women who currently have access to no copay contraception as a result of the Affordable Care Act would maintain that coverage for over-the-counter birth control. 

The oral contraceptive pill is one of the safest and extensively-studied medications on the market today, and medical experts agree that women can safely use the pill without a prescription.  The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) issued a committee opinion in 2012 which supported moving birth control pills from behind the pharmacy counter, stating “OCs should be available over-the-counter.” 

Nearly half of all pregnancies in the U.S. are unintended or mistimed—one of the highest amongst developed nations in the world.  The Affordable Care Act made historic advances in expanding no-copay health coverage for contraception. In 2013, women saved $483 million in out-of-pocket costs for birth control, an average savings of $269 per woman. Yet too many women still face barriers to accessing birth control—including the need to visit a provider to get a prescription and the fact that birth control is only available when a pharmacy is open.  These barriers are especially high for women living in poor, rural, and immigrant communities—where access to any health care services can be sparse and the cost of contraception must be weighed against the cost of other basic necessities.

Today’s measure comes less than two weeks after Senators Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) and Cory Gardner (R-CO) introduced S. 1438, the “Allowing Greater Access to Safe and Effective Contraception Act,” a measure which also addresses over-the-counter status for birth control but falls short in two key ways:  the bill precludes young women, and consequently those without ID, from accessing birth control over-the-counter and fails to maintain insurance coverage for birth control pills available without a prescription.

The Center for Reproductive Rights led a decade long battle with the FDA to make emergency contraception available without a prescription for women of all ages.  From a Citizen Petition filed in 2001 to a suit in federal court, the battle eventually concluded when a federal judge denied the government’s request to delay the availability of emergency contraception for over-the-counter use. 

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