Sammy Nickalls
June 06, 2015 7:51 am

You may stop at a pharmacy for some toiletries and a bottle of Advil — and maybe once a month to pick up your birth control prescription. Soon, though you won’t need a prescription from your doctor to keep yourself protected. Later this year, California will make major history by becoming the first state where you can buy birth control over-the-counter.

California has passed a new law allowing pharmacists — instead of just your doctor — to prescribe hormonal contraception. Whether a woman’s preference is the pill, the patch, or the ring, she will soon be able to walk into a pharmacy, get a prescription right there, and then have it filled, all in one go. “For a woman who can’t get in to see their doctor, the pharmacist will be able to furnish that for them now,” professor of UC San Francisco’s school of pharmacy Lisa Kroon told KQED News. FINALLY.

The law, SB 493, was actually passed back in 2013, but is currently being finalized and is expected to take full effect later this year. Kroon oversees the school’s Walgreens, where her students work; this Walgreens will be one of the first to implement SB 493.

Birth control isn’t the only change that SB 493 is bringing about; pharmacists will also be able to adjust drug regimens for patients with various existing conditions such as diabetes. They can order lab tests, and will also be able to prescribe anti-smoking medications, as well as traveling medications, and they will be able to give children routine vaccines.

A big reason for the change: now that baby boomers are growing older, there just aren’t enough doctors. “The pharmacist is really an untapped resource,” Kroon told KQED. “We are graduating students that are ready for this, but the laws just haven’t kept up with what the pharmacist training already is.”

This sounds great, but there’s one major drawback: pharmacists won’t be paid the extra time these new tasks require. California’s version of Medicaid is not required by law to reimburse pharmacists for these services. “We are working to try and identify where it makes sense to pay pharmacists as opposed to other more expensive providers in the health care delivery system,” Jon Roth, CEO of the California Pharmacists Association, told KQED.

Another thing that’s a bit worrying: Women may come in to a pharmacy to get birth control, but won’t be able to be screened for STDs at a pharmacy… and health providers are worried that if they don’t come to the doctor for birth control, they may procrastinate coming to the doctor at all. “Family planning for women is often an access point to assessing other health issues,” Amy Moy, VP of public affairs for the California Family Health Council, told KQED. “Women accessing birth control through the pharmacist would be faster and more convenient. But they will also not have the comprehensive care available in another health care setting.”

However, according to Kroon, the plan is to have the pharmacist regularly communicate with doctors of patients. “We are not a lone ranger out there doing something,” she told KQED.

Here’s hoping that this law spreads to other states — once pharmacists are given what they’re due, that is! We’re SO happy that birth control is finally making the journey over-the-counter where it will be accessible to many more women who need it.

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