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Bill would dispense with prescription requirement for birth control pills

New Hampshire Union Leader

February 02. 2017 7:34PM

CONCORD — State lawmakers are considering allowing women 18 or older to get birth control pills without a prescription.

Similar legislation is pending in both the Senate and the House. A House committee is recommending a study commission be formed to consider the proposed policy and questions about protocols and implementation.

The Senate bill would allow pharmacies, including mail-order pharmacies, to dispense oral contraceptives without a prescription after an initial consultation with a licensed or certified health care provider. “Such products shall only be dispensed by pharmacy employees, and shall not be accessible by the public without the assistance of a pharmacy employee,” according to the bill.

“Women should have equal access to contraceptives over the counter, as do men,” said state Sen. Andy Sanborn, R-Bedford, the prime sponsor of the bill.

The Senate Health and Human Services Committee heard testimony Wednesday from people who liked the idea, but spoke out against the bill as drafted, questioning protocols.

Linda Griebsch, a former state representative and retired executive director of the Joan G. Lovering Health Center, which provides family planning and reproductive health care, endorsed the concept, but raised concerns about the cost and implementation.

“I certainly approve of the policy, but the devil’s in the details,” she said.

Robert J. Stout, president of the New Hampshire Board of Pharmacy, testified in support of the concept. He also said the bill needs additional work, including review of proposed protocols. For pharmacies and consumers alike, there are questions of billing and insurance coverage.

Kayla Montgomery, director of advocacy for Planned Parenthood of Northern New England, said her organization supports the idea. She shares some questions raised during the hearing about the scope of the language and cost, including coverage under the Affordable Care Act, as the federal law stands.

“One thing that I think is important to note is that if there is an 18-plus provision,” she said, “it’s no longer over-the-counter, it’s more of a behind-the-counter situation and it really sort of ignores the fact that a lot of women who are under 18 do not have an ID. So there are some concerns there.”

Sen. Martha Hennessey, D-Hanover, who is a co-sponsor of the bill, also raised a concern about the “18 years and older” provision.

California, Oregon and Washington have enacted state laws allowing pharmacist-issued birth control without first getting a doctor’s prescription. At least half a dozen states are considering legislation to have women get birth control at a pharmacy without a prescription from their doctor, according to a 2016 report on the trend in The Pew Charitable Trusts.

The U.S. Food & Drug Administration regulates birth control medications and devices.

Sanborn said New Hampshire lawmakers should not feel “subservient” to the federal government when it comes to oral contraceptives. He told the Senate committee that it is not much different from the state’s medical marijuana law, in terms of health care and policy.

Patricia Tilley, from the Division of Public Health Services within the New Hampshire Health and Human Services, testified in opposition to the bill. She said the department supports the concept, and increasing access to birth control. She raised concerns with costs, the age restriction, and ensuring protocols are clear for pharmacies and consumers.

New Hampshire is one of the leading states in having a low rate of teen pregnancy, she said.

Tilley said it is important to note that more than 58 percent of post-natal women in New Hampshire who use Medicaid as their insurance report that they did not intend to become pregnant. That rate is 28 percent for women with commercial insurance, she said.

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