It will be easier to access birth control in Illinois, thanks to a new law that allows pharmacists to dispense hormonal birth control without a doctor’s prescription.
It is not the same as over the counter.
The law (HB135/Public Act 102-0103) requires a trained pharmacist to have an agreement with a doctor for supervision.
The patient must undergo an evaluation with the pharmacist, which includes a self-screening risk assessment and “advice and education about all contraceptive methods … and their proper use and effectiveness.”
“Birth control is basic health care,” said Katie Thiede, co-founder and director of Illinois Contraceptive Access Now of ICAN. “Demand is high and yet only 20% of the need for contraception among young women and women with fewer resources is met by government-funded providers. One in three women have struggled to access contraception during the pandemic, due to health centers’ limited telehealth infrastructure. For black and Hispanic women in particular, mistrust in the health care system due to experiences of discrimination, racism and/or contraceptive coercion remains a barrier to care.”
According to ICAN, “800,000 Illinois women aged 15-44 are living on fewer resources” in counties without health centers that offer the “full range of birth control methods.”
Access to a doctor can be financially, practically, or physically difficult for some. But according to the Illinois Pharmacists Association, most Illinois residents live within a five-mile radius of a pharmacist.
In recent years, Illinois has expanded the services that pharmacists can provide, lowering the age at which pharmacists can provide certain vaccines. During the pandemic, some have administered monoclonal antibody treatments.
“COVID has certainly helped the country see that pharmacists are also an entry point for medical services for some – I will not say everything, we are not a doctor, we will never be a doctor. But we can help alleviate a lot of patient care support services,” said Garth Reynolds, head of the Illinois Pharmacists Association. “We have more services to offer, we have patients who have greater needs, and we have patients who have greater needs in areas where they may not have access to other healthcare providers, and this is where we can really help.”
ICAN’s other founder, licensed obstetrician Kai Tao, said contraceptive patient consultations with pharmacists could serve as a gateway to other health concerns, be it sexually transmitted infections or underlying conditions.
“(pharmacies) will also need to get a medical history to confirm they are not pregnant and provide referrals,” Tao said. “Another piece the pharmacist will do is also give a blood pressure reading. So it’s a great way for a pharmacist to say, ‘Actually your blood pressure is sky high today, I’m concerned, let’s get you to a primary care provider.’”
Tao also easier access to hormonal contraception can serve as a bridge for someone waiting to see a doctor for other birth control methods.
“Maybe someone will say, ‘My partner is having a vasectomy, but can I try something in the meantime, for the next six months?’ so that’s what we mean by bridge method,” Tao said.
But executive director of the American Life League, Jim Sedlak, said pharmacists don’t have the time to do the thorough consultation that doctors would during an appointment.
“It’s a disservice to the women who want to get hormonal birth control because there are so many dangerous things about hormonal birth control. And if you go to a doctor’s office and you ask the doctor about it, they generally have time to talk to you and explain the problem, to explain that the hormonal birth control causes deep vein thrombosis, blood clots that can lead to heart attacks or brain aneurysms, or pulmonary embolism.”
Sedlak, who fought another new Illinois law that repeals the requirement that the parents of minors be notified before they can have an abortion, is also concerned that Illinois’ new law does not set a minimum age for circumventing a doctor. to access contraception.
He said teens’ brains are not yet fully developed, meaning they lack the cognitive judgment to recognize the long-term effects of their decisions.
“A 13-year-old girl, a 12-year-old girl, can go to a pharmacist and say ‘I want the birth control’ and can get the prescription if they fill out the paperwork,” he said. “And unfortunately they are not adults yet and they can’t make the decisions the way they should make the decisions.”
Birth control is safe, Tao said.
“Usually it’s a progesterone and an estrogen, and in general there’s a lot of discussion, even worldwide, about this campaign called Free the Pill. That campaign is really about, why can’t contraception — like in many other countries, you might actually see it over the counter,” Tao said. “There are a lot of arguments, when you think of something like acetaminophen, like a Tylenol, that’s more dangerous than if someone were to accidentally take the pill, right. And so in general we say that birth control is very safe, and other states have demonstrated this and globally we have seen other data on that.”
Some 17 states already have similar laws on the books.
Although the Illinois law went into effect in January 2022, it will take some time to implement, for training, as Illinois seeks federal approval to extend the amendment to Medicaid recipients and as already understaffed pharmacies prepare and decide. how to handle the volume,
Those with government-backed health insurance are expected to benefit from the change within months.
Private insurers have until 2023 to cover birth control dispensed directly by pharmacists.
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