By Courtney Sherwood
PORTLAND, Ore. (Reuters) - Oregon appears poised to significantly expand access to prescription birth control, with bipartisan support for legislation that family planning experts said on Wednesday is unique in the United States.
A law requiring private insurers to allow women to collect a 12-month supply of birth control in a single visit, rather than the one-month dose often supplied, received unanimous Senate approval on Tuesday and is now headed to the governor’s desk.
A separate bill, which would allow pharmacists to dispense contraceptives directly without physician oversight, was passed on Tuesday by the House by a vote of 50 to 10, and now heads to the state Senate.
“What we see in Oregon is unusual,” said Elizabeth Nash, policy analyst with the New York-based Guttmacher Institute, which advocates for family planning and abortion access.
More U.S. states are restricting access to birth control than expanding it, and no other state requires insurance companies to pay for a 12-month contraceptive supply, Nash said, despite research showing fewer pharmacy visits result in fewer missed pills.
California voted in 2013 to allow pharmacists to prescribe birth control, but that law mandated extra training and oversight and has still not been implemented because of administrative hurdles, which means Oregon could effectively become the first state to dispense contraception directly through pharmacies, Nash said.
Republican state Representative Knute Beuhler, a physician who backed the 12-month birth control supply legislation, said he was optimistic the Senate would approve the pharmacist regulation.
“There’s a long history of pharmacists prescribing in Oregon, which is unique compared to other states,” he said.
A bipartisan team of elected physicians in the state House and Senate studied California’s example and worked to write legislation that would allow pharmacists to start directly prescribing birth control by the start of 2016, Beuhler said.
Under the law, girls under age 18 would still need a physician’s prescription to obtain chemical contraception.
Governor Kate Brown, a Democrat, is widely expected to sign the 12-month birth control bill into law, and also to back the pharmacist measure if it wins approval, although a spokeswoman for Brown’s office declined to comment on the governor’s plans for either measure.
(Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Eric Walsh)