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Should pharmacists be able to dispense birth control pills to women in NH who do not have a doctor’s prescription?

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HB 1822, under consideration by the Legislature this year, allows pharmacists to dispense oral contraceptives based on a standing order from a physician. This means a woman could purchase hormonal birth control from a pharmacist without first getting a prescription from her own doctor.

A vote in the House is expected Wednesday.

How “over-the-counter” birth control works

The New Hampshire bill is based on laws already in place in Oregon and California. In those states, a pharmacist establishes a relationship with a physician where the physician agrees to sign off on any oral contraceptives the pharmacist dispenses. It’s the partnering physician who technically issues the prescription, with the pharmacist acting as a proxy.

What this means for patients is that women who don’t have a prescription for birth control from their own doctor can walk into a pharmacy and be issued the drug, after going through a health screening with the pharmacist.

HB 1822 also includes a provision that requires insurers in New Hampshire to cover birth control received directly from a pharmacist, applying the same co-pays they do for prescriptions a woman gets in the usual way from her doctor.

Hawaii, Missouri, South Carolina, Tennessee and Washington are also considering similar legislation.

Lower costs for birth control?

Supporters of the legislation in New Hampshire say it will reduce unwanted pregnancies and reduce health care costs by eliminating the requirement that women make a doctor’s visit before they can get a prescription for birth control.

“We are primarily interested in ensuring there is access (to birth control) for low-income families or women who do not have access to health care… In order to get that first prescription for contraceptives, we want to remove as many barriers as we can.”

-Patricia Tilley, deputy director of Public Health Services at the state Department of Health and Human Services

Potential risks and pitfalls

Opponents say physicians, not pharmacists, should be deciding who should and shouldn’t receive birth control pills. Gynecologists, they say, need to examine a patient for disqualifying pre-existing conditions health issues that could be complicated by the use of hormonal birth control.

“How do we decide from the range of birth control that might be prescribed which one is right for which woman? There’s a lot of counseling that goes along with it.”

- Rep. Lucy Weber, D-Walpole

What do you think? Should pharmacists be allowed to dispense birth control pills? Let us know in the comments section.


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I was shocked to discover that it was leading Democrats in the House who opposed this bill in committee. Rep. Messmer has apparently stated that she is against the bill because it raises concerns about liability. If liability is an issue, why not amend the bill to repair that perceived fault? It sounds like a load of bull to me. A study committee reached a bipartisan consensus on this issue, and these reps think they know better? Here's hoping the House has more common sense.

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