The PJ Tatler

Dems' Answer to GOP Pill Bill: Put Birth Control OTC and Make Insurance Cover It

Senate Democrats are battling against the efforts of some Senate Republicans to put birth control over the counter, answering with a bill that would mandate insurance coverage of contraceptives even if the FDA approves use without a prescription.

Last month, 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 then. “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.”

Original co-sponsors are Sens. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa), Richard Burr (R-N.C.), Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), and Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) — with Gardner, a strong showing by GOP freshmen.

But Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), ranking member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, rallied colleagues and abortion-rights groups this week against what she called a backdoor effort to pull contraceptive coverage out of Obamacare.

Her Affordability is Access Act would ensure that even after the FDA approves the Pill for over the counter sales, they would have to be fully covered by insurance.

In a call with representatives from NARAL Pro Choice America, Planned Parenthood Action Fund, and the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, Murray said women “should be able to get the comprehensive health care they need, when they need it — without being charged extra, without asking permission, and without politicians interfering.”

“Making approved birth control pills available over-the-counter is another important step forward in terms of women’s access to health care,” she said. “But anyone will tell you that if something is too expensive, it doesn’t matter how easy it is to get. It might as well be on the moon.”

“That’s why Democrats fought to ensure that contraception would be covered with no co-pay under the Affordable Care Act. We felt that women shouldn’t have to pay out of their own pockets for a critical part of their health care, just because their insurance didn’t cover it.”

Their bill also states that, if the FDA puts the Pill over the counter, any retailer who sells contraceptives “may not interfere with a consumer’s access to or purchase of such contraception.”

“Unfortunately some of my Republican colleagues are taking a different approach. They’ve said they support over-the-counter birth control pills — but they are also dead-set on taking away women’s access to contraceptive coverage under the Affordable Care Act,” Murray said. “If they had their way, women might be able to get birth control pills over the counter — but it wouldn’t be fully covered. That could mean paying as much as $600 every year for birth control, which could put this essential health benefit out of reach for millions of women.”

“This Republican approach of access without affordability is like offering somebody a single shoe. You really need the pair. And we need progress on women’s health — not just smoke and mirrors.”

The bill was introduced with 29 original co-sponsors, all Democrats.

Introducing the bill last month, Gardner cited a 2012 committee recommendation by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists that the pill be put over the counter.

“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,” he argued in a argued in a Denver Post op-ed a year ago. “…Getting the politics out of contraception will improve the lives of women all over the country.”