Some Republicans have floated support for putting birth control pills over the counter, but now two senators have put legislative muscle behind the effort.
Sens. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) and Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) introduced the Allowing Greater Access to Safe and Effective Contraception Act, which aims to encourage manufacturers of contraceptives to file an application for a prescription-to-over-the-counter switch (Rx-to-OTC switch) by allowing priority review for their applications and waiving the FDA filing fee.
The incentives would be available for FDA-approved OTC contraceptives sold to adults 18 and older.
The bill would then repeal the Obamacare prohibition on the use of health savings accounts, medical savings accounts, and flexible spending accounts (FSAs) to purchase OTC drugs as well as repeal the ACA’s annual limits on FSA contributions.
Gardner voiced his support for OTC contraceptives in his winning battle against incumbent Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colo.) last fall. Udall tried to paint his challenger as anti-women’s rights.
“It’s time to allow women the ability to make their own decisions about safe, effective, and long-established methods of contraception,”Gardner said in a statement today. “Most other drugs with such a long history of safe and routine use are available for purchase over the counter, and contraception should join them.”
“Making this medication available over the counter would increase access in rural and underserved areas, save consumers money by increasing competition and availability, and save women time by increasing the ease of getting the safe contraception they need.”
Ayotte said the bill “will help increase women’s access to safe and effective contraceptives and further empower women to make their own healthcare decisions.”
“In addition, our bill restores the ability of Health Savings Accounts and Flexible Spending Accounts to be used to purchase over-the-counter medications, giving women more purchasing power,” she said.
Original co-sponsors are Sens. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa), Richard Burr (R-N.C.), Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), and Thom Tillis (R-N.C.).
Gardner argued in a June Denver Post op-ed that women should be able to buy the pill over the counter.
“Since ‘the pill’ was first approved 44 years ago, it’s been one of the most proven and tested pharmaceuticals of our time. It is safe, reliable, effective, and presents very few risks or complications for the more than 10 million women who use it. When other drugs have that kind of track record, we approve them for purchase without a prescription; the Food and Drug Administration has already reclassified over 100 different treatments. Name-brand drugs like Advil, Pepcid, Claritin, Prilosec and many others were once sold by prescription only, but moved to over-the-counter sale (OTC) once they’d been proven safe and unlikely to be abused,” he wrote.
“When treatments go over-the-counter, two things happen: they get dramatically cheaper and consumers save time and hassle by avoiding unnecessary doctors’ appointments just to get the pharmaceuticals they already know they need… Getting the politics out of contraception will improve the lives of women all over the country.”
He cited a 2012 committee recommendation by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists that the pill be put over the counter.
After that guidance was issued, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal threw his support behind OTC birth control.
“As a conservative Republican, I believe that we have been stupid to let the Democrats demagogue the contraceptives issue and pretend, during debates about health-care insurance, that Republicans are somehow against birth control. It’s a disingenuous political argument they make,” Jindal wrote in the Wall Street Journal.
“Contraception is a personal matter — the government shouldn’t be in the business of banning it or requiring a woman’s employer to keep tabs on her use of it. If an insurance company or those purchasing insurance want to cover birth control, they should be free to do so. If a consumer wants to buy birth control on her own, she should be free to do so.”