Oral Contraceptives Ought to Be Prescribed in Yearly Quantities
Virginia Postrel proposes a simple way to take the edge off the current row over forcing healthcare plans to cover prescription contraceptives: make them available over the counter. This wouldn’t eliminate the controversy completely, since it would apply only to oral contraceptives, but it might lower the temperature a bit:
Partly because birth-control pills are available only by prescription, people tend to think they’re more dangerous and less well understood than they actually are. In fact, “more is known about the safety of oral contraceptives than has been known about any other drug in the history of medicine,” declared an editorial in the American Journal of Public Health back in 1993. That editorial accompanied an article arguing for over-the-counter sales…. Nearly two decades later, birth-control pills look even safer than they did then, and recent research indicates that women are both able and eager to manage their own purchase decisions.
….Aside from safety, the biggest argument for keeping birth-control pills prescription-only is, to put it bluntly, extortion. The current arrangement forces women to go to the doctor at least once a year, usually submitting to a pelvic exam, if they want this extremely reliable form of contraception. That demand may suit doctors’ paternalist instincts and financial interests, but it doesn’t serve patients’ needs.
….Right now, the American women who have the most choice are those who live near the border with Mexico, where pharmacies sell oral contraceptives without a prescription, generally for about $5 for a one-month supply.