Birth control pills are the most popular form of hormonal birth control and one of the most popular forms among all birth control methods.
What’s the problem?
One of the biggest barriers to using birth control pills correctly and consistently is the lack of supply. Many women find themselves out of birth control pills when they go to take their next pill. And because birth control pills currently require a prescription from a doctor or clinic, this could lead to delays. Catastrophic delays. Missing a couple birth control pills is very different than missing a couple of cholesterol pills. It could mean pregnancy. Especially because the first few pills in each pack are the most important to take on time to be sure ovulation is prevented (and no egg is released). So that explains the problem.
What’s the solution?
Giving women larger supplies of their birth control pills! This mean less trips to the pharmacy, fewer missed pills, and fewer unplanned pregnancies. It’s all very logical. The hang up? Health insurance plans don’t want to pay for larger supplies up front. From their perspective, you may be a customer this month, but may not be a few months from now. More and more plans are restricting the supply that can be dispensed at the pharmacy. So even if your prescription is written for a 3-month supply at a time, the pharmacy may only be able to give you 1 pack for no/low co-pay. Of course, women can choose to ditch the reimbursement from their health insurance plan and pay cash for multiple packs at once, but few will choose to do that and they certainly shouldn’t have to.
What does the research tell us?
All the research supports larger supplies. It helps women stick to their birth control method and we know that’s what it takes to prevent unplanned pregnancies. A systematic review of four research studies found that prescribing and dispensing more pill packs led to a handful of benefits:
- Increased birth control method continuation
- Fewer pregnancy tests
- Fewer pregnancies
- Fewer abortions
- Lower cost per patient
The only downside? Some pill packs were wasted. The wastage was a result of some women who stopped using birth control pills before they ran out of supplies. But that was a small price to pay to reap all the other rewards. There was an overall financial savings to providing more pill packs.
How do we get women the supplies they need?
Oregon lawmakers are proposing a new bill that would require health plans to allow up to a 12-month supply of birth control pills to be dispensed at once. If you’re in the area and want to get involved, you can participate in a local lobby day on March 25th. Hopefully this Comprehensive Women’s Health Bill passes and serves as a precendent for other states. For now, it is up to each health insurance plan to determine how many packs they will allow women to receive at a once.
Women always have the option to self-pay to get around plan restrictions. Some pharmacies offer auto-refill programs to help patients stay on track with their medications, so ask if your pharmacy offers this.