In last night’s debate between Senator Kay Hagan and Speaker Thom Tillis, there was a lot of talk about birth control. If you were listening closely, you heard something new: Speaker Tillis claimed to support increased access to birth control, and proposed to do this by making some forms of birth control available over-the-counter (OTC).
Don’t be mislead folks. As our friends at Planned Parenthood Action Fund pointed out, “[o]pponents of women’s health are proposing to move birth control over-the-counter as a part of their larger effort to take away insurance coverage for birth control — forcing women to pay out-of-pocket instead of keeping the coverage they have today.” The reality is that making some forms of birth control available OTC may increase access for some individuals, but birth control would become more expensive and less affordable for most women and families since most health insurance plans don’t cover OTC products without a prescription.
The lack of affordable contraception is a real problem that we encourage more lawmakers to sincerely address but making some forms of birth control available OTC is not a comprehensive solution. A national survey from the Center for American Progress showed that in 2012 women with private insurance already paid about 50 percent of the total costs for oral contraceptives, while the typical cost of noncontraceptive drugs is only 33 percent. The high cost of birth control has real, potentially harmful consequences. The same CAP survey found that the high cost of contraception forced many women to stop or delay using their preferred method of birth control while others were forced to depend on less effective methods because they were most affordable. With 98% of American women using some form of birth control in their lifetimes, it’s long past due for lawmakers to recognize that birth control is basic and essential health care that should be both affordable and accessible.