The state’s top public health official has signed an order allowing women across Illinois to get hormonal birth control directly from pharmacists, without first visiting their doctors.
The head of the Illinois Department of Public Health issued a standing order Wednesday that will allow pharmacists who complete additional training to dispense hormonal patches, vaginal rings, oral contraceptives and contraceptive injections to patients. Patients will not need prescriptions from their own doctors first.
“In Illinois, we respect a woman’s right to make reproductive health choices,” Gov. J.B. Pritzker said in a news release Thursday. “I’m pleased that as part of that mission, we are making safe, tested hormonal contraceptives more accessible than ever by allowing pharmacists to dispense this necessary medication, removing barriers to treatment for women across the state.”
Illinois women may start getting birth control through the standing order once pharmacists complete the required training, said Michael Claffey, a spokesman for the state health department. He was not able to say Thursday exactly when that might be.
Jennifer Welch, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Illinois, called the standing order in Illinois “a win for people seeking easier and more convenient access to birth control,” in a statement.
The standing order comes during a tumultuous time in reproductive health care. In June of last year, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, which had guaranteed the right to abortion. That decision left it up to states whether to keep abortion legal. Since then, 14 states have banned most abortions, according to The New York Times. Courts are also considering efforts to ban the abortion pill mifepristone.
With the standing order, Illinois is now one of more than 20 states that allow pharmacists to dispense hormonal contraception without first visiting a doctor, according to the governor’s office.
“Not every woman who lives throughout the state has the same access to providers,” said Garth Reynolds, executive director of the Illinois Pharmacists Association. “There are areas of Illinois, even in the most urban areas, that have health care deserts. … This just allows pharmacists to be able to do our part.”
Reynolds, however, cautioned that it might take time for the change to fully roll out. Under the standing order, pharmacists must educate patients and answer questions about all methods of contraception. Pharmacies and private insurance companies are still working out how to cover that, Reynolds said.
Insurance companies must cover the full cost of birth control, under the Affordable Care Act. But it’s possible that patients might face out-of-pocket costs for consultations with pharmacists over birth control dispensed under the standing order, depending on their insurance plans, said Laura Minzer, president of the Illinois Life and Health Insurance Council.
The standing order is allowed under a state law passed in 2021. Certain provisions of that law didn’t take effect until January of this year. That bill faced opposition from critics who worried that it would allow minors to have access to birth control without follow-up medical care. Neither the law nor the standing order requires a minimum age for obtaining birth control.
The law does not include a minimum age because, biologically, women may need birth control at different ages, Reynolds said.
Under the law, pharmacists must use their “professional and clinical” judgment to determine when a patient should be referred to a doctor or other health care provider. Pharmacists don’t have to dispense birth control under the standing order if they find any cause for concern during the screening process.
Pharmacists who wish to dispense contraceptives under the standing order must complete training accredited by the Accreditation Council for Pharmacy Education. They must also have patients first complete medical a screening form to make sure it’s safe for them to use the contraception.
Separately, a U.S. Food and Drug Administration advisory panel weighed in Wednesday on whether a birth control pill called Opill should be sold without a prescription. The advisory panel said the benefits of selling the pill over-the-counter would outweigh the risks. If the FDA follows the panel’s advice and approves Opill for over-the-counter sales, women across the country will be able to get that pill without a prescription.
Illinois’ standing order allows women in Illinois to get contraceptives that are not sold over the counter, without first visiting a doctor.
Tribune reporter Angie Leventis Lourgos contributed.
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May 11, 2023 at 06:56PM