How To Get Birth Control Without a Doctor’s Prescription in 3 Simple Steps

Washington D.C. and 10 states – California, Colorado, Hawaii, Maryland, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Oregon, Tennessee, Washington, and most recently, Utah – now allow women to get their birth control prescription directly from a pharmacist, saving them a trip to the doctor’s office.

How to get birth control without seeing a doctor

What does this mean for me and my state?

If you live in California, Colorado, Hawaii, Oregon, New Mexico or Washington, your state law is already in effect. Check the chart (thanks to the R Street) below to see what your state’s restrictions are. At the very minimum, pharmacists can prescribe birth control pills, which have a 9% failure rate with typical use (compared to the 18% failure rate of condoms).

If you live in D.C., Maryland, New Hampshire, Tennessee or Utah, expect prescription programs to start rolling out later this year. We’ll report here on the GoodRx blog as we get more information.
Residents of California, Maryland and D.C. can benefit even further as they can fill a prescription for a 12-month supply at a time and have it fully covered by insurance under state laws. Other states will only let you fill a 30- or 90-day supply of birth control per pharmacy visit.

What’s the catch?

Making birth control easier to access should encourage more women to get protection. In a 2013 study on oral contraceptive use, 28% of participants not using any birth control and 32.7% of participants using a less effective method said they would choose the pill if it was available over the counter. While the current laws don’t quite make the pill “over-the-counter”, they do mean women who would otherwise be restricted by work hours, child care, transportation and money will have more options to get a prescription.

Though these prescription laws are in place, the service is not mandatory for pharmacies and they aren’t getting paid to provide it. Researchers found that only 11% of California retail pharmacies offer the service, one year after the law was put into effect. Requirements vary by state but they all require at least some training, so not every pharmacy can automatically offer the service. For the larger impact legislatures and supporters are hoping for, more pharmacies would have to get on board. For example, Safeway is the first major retailer in Colorado dedicated to training their pharmacy staff.

One last thing: Since pharmacists aren’t financially incentivized to go through training and offer the prescription service, pharmacies typically charge patients between $25-$50 for the visit. And because the Affordable Care Act doesn’t require insurers to cover pharmacy prescription services, women have to bear the full cost of the pharmacy consultation themselves, which they may not be able to. Some states are making moves to change this: Oregon requires Medicaid to pay for the prescription service, while California is hoping to do the same by 2021.

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