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Opinion/Commentary: Virginia expands basic health care

Opinion/Commentary: Virginia expands basic health care

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Our health care system can be hard to figure out and costly to use. For many Americans, getting access to birth control options is a challenge.

In most states, getting a prescription for birth control means first getting an appointment for an in-office visit with a doctor. These in-person visits are not always practical and can be a major burden, especially during the current pandemic when people may be afraid or unable to visit a doctor’s office in person. Cost of transportation, unpaid time off from work, and need for child care can make these visits more of a hassle to schedule.

In fact, many doctors believe some types of birth control, such as birth control pills, should be over-the-counter instead of prescription-only, to increase access for patients. Given their accessibility and expertise, pharmacists are uniquely positioned to help fill the need. There are now over 3000 pharmacies across the country providing direct access to self-administered birth control, such as pills, patches, and rings.

However, their ability to expand access to contraception depends on state law.

Virginia understands the importance of expanding access to contraception for more people in various ways. For instance, Virginia recently joined 16 other states and D.C. to allow pharmacists to prescribe birth control. Virginia also provides the option to get an extended supply of birth control by requiring private insurers to cover up to 12 months of certain contraceptives.

The General Assembly recently passed a law to apply this provision to Medicaid allowing people covered by Medicaid to also benefit from an extended supply of birth control.

In addition, Virginia has expanded Medicaid access to low-income adults. People across the country deserve to get vital preventative health care services, including contraceptive care. All these steps and more are necessary given the challenges some Virginia citizens face.

Unfortunately, today more than 19 million U.S. women of low income live in contraceptive deserts — counties in which there is not reasonable access to a health center offering the full range of contraceptive methods. In Virginia, according to Power to Decide, there are 407,310 women struggling to make ends meet that live in contraceptive deserts.

The majority of adults in the U.S. (76%) believe that birth control is a basic part of health care. Further, 86% of adults support access to all birth control methods, with broad support regardless of race, region and political affiliation. Such support further shows the need to ensure that birth control be easily accessible, and all methods be affordable.

Given the broad public support for birth control, there should be ways to streamline its availability for those who need it. Pharmacists are often well-positioned to fill such voids by making sure patients have complete and accurate information regarding their medications and getting their birth control in a convenient place. We hope innovative approaches that recognize pharmacists’ unique role will become established practice across the country.

States like Virginia are working to remove barriers to birth control, and pharmacists are proud to have an opportunity to play a role in ensuring that all patients can have the power to decide if, when, and under what circumstances to get pregnant and have a child. Against the backdrop of the pandemic, this has never been more important, and we look forward to fully implementing the new flexibilities enacted by policymakers in Virginia.

Allie Jo Shipman is director of state policy for the National Alliance of State Pharmacy Associations.

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