An argument will soon erupt over the fate of the Affordable Care Act’s mandate that requires health insurance to cover oral contraceptives at no direct out of pocket cost to the patient. This mandate was never explicitly listed in the ACA as one of the “essential health benefits.” Its inclusion was made at the discretion of the HHS Secretary. According to press reports, the Trump Administration is about to relax the requirement.
The arguments made in favor of loosening the mandate mostly revolve around the employers’ right to freedom of conscience. Meanwhile, some advocacy groups fear this will mean many women won’t be able to obtain affordable oral contraceptives. As I recently wrote in Morning Consult, it can help temper the concerns of all parties to the argument if the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) followed the recommendation that the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) has been making for decades, and reclassify oral contraceptives from prescription to over the counter (OTC). Birth control pills are already available over the counter in 102 countries.
But health insurance plans usually only cover prescription drugs. Making birth control pills available OTC means that women can purchase them directly, like they purchase aspirin, ibuprofen, antihistamines and antacids.
In my Morning Consult piece, I point out that the average cash price of prescription birth control pills runs from $20 to $50 per month but can range as low as $9 per month. Various community health centers across the US, as well as Planned Parenthood, offer free oral contraceptives for those unable to afford them. If birth control pills are made available over the counter prices are likely to drop. That’s because oral contraceptives will be liberated from the third-party spending trap.