You may have heard about a new law that allows pharmacists to distribute hormonal birth control - like the pill, patch, and ring - to teens without a prescription. As great as this new law is, it’s important to weigh your options. It will be important to decide if going directly to the pharmacy for birth control is right for you, or if going to your health care provider for comprehensive care and birth control is a better option.
To get the low-down on this new law, I talked with Courtney Miller, a pharmacy student at UC San Diego Skaggs School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences. Courtney helped to answer some questions I had related to the law, all important things to consider before deciding if over-the-counter birth control is right for you.
- How will this new law increase access to birth control? Pharmacies will become an additional point of access to get your birth control because pharmacists working there will be able to give out hormonal birth control to you without a prescription. This means that you’ll be able to stop by the pharmacy when it’s convenient for you, such as after work or school. Getting birth control at your pharmacy might be right for you if you live in a remote area where your pharmacy is closer than your doctor’s office (a clinic may be nearby as well!), or if you’re in a time crunch and want birth control right away.
- Are pharmacists replacing doctors? Nope! While it’s great that pharmacies will become a new point of access for women to get birth control without needing a prescription, getting birth control from your pharmacist does not mean you shouldn’t go to regular check-ups with a health care provider near you. Only a provider will be able to screen you for cervical cancer, test you for STDs, or place a long-acting, reversible method of birth control. As Courtney put it, “pharmacists are an untapped resource, but by no means will they be funneling patients away from primary care doctors”. It’s still incredibly important to go to your regular doctor because they provide the comprehensive care that is critical to your overall health, says Amy Moy, Vice President of Public Affairs for California Family Health Council. Often times, the screening you receive at your doctor before getting birth control serves as a checkpoint for other aspects of your health, such as checking your blood pressure. Doctors can provide the full range of comprehensive birth control care, like informing you about LARCs, Long Acting Reversible Contraceptives, which include IUDS and the implant that are most effective for teens.
- How will getting birth control w/out a prescription differ from a regular pharmacy visit? Usually when you go to the pharmacy, you simply pick up your prescription and leave. With this new law, there is a protocol that pharmacists will have to follow before prescribing birth control. The pharmacist will give you a self-screening tool (a questionairre) and they may have a short conversation with you about your options as well. The goal is to find a method of birth control that works best for the patient. According to Courtney, “pharmacists will ask something along the lines of, 'What are you looking to get our of your birth control?'" Pharmacists will also give patients other important health information, such as a reminder that birth control does not protect against STDs. (Get free condoms here for protection against STDs.)
- Will my visit to the pharmacy be confidential? Information regarding your health care is personal and private, and this new law understands that. Under law, your pharmacist has to obtain written permission from you to share information with your parents. Sometimes, however, if you are under another person's insurance policy, the insurer may send sensitive information about the health care you received to that policy holder. If you are under your parents insurance, you can make sure all of your health information is kept private by filling out a confidential communication request. This request will let your insurance provider know that anytime you receive services under your insurance, they should send YOU the health information they usually send out (like the name of your provider and the services you received) instead of your parents. You can learn more about how to keep your health information confidential at myhealthmyinfo.org.
Since California is the first state where this law will go into effect, there are still a few kinks to work out and a few things to keep in mind. For example, even though all pharmacists will be able to distribute birth control, that doesn’t mean they will. You should first ask your local pharmacist if they’re planning on including this service. You could also be charged a service fee not included in the cost of the medication itself if your insurance doesn’t cover it.
Above all, this is another access point that breaks down barriers to getting birth control if you don't have time to wait for an appointment at a health center OR if you don't have a provider near you. This new law will hopefully help teens like you avoid unintended pregnancy with more convenient access to safe and effective birth control!