The junior senator from Colorado is embarking on some rather unusual territory for a Republican – Cory Gardner is leading a new push to allow women to purchase birth control without a prescription.
Interestingly, Gardner’s bill has received support from six of his Republican colleagues as well. The bill would require drug companies to file an application to sell contraceptives over the counter. The Senator argues that contraceptives have a proven track record of safety and efficacy and therefore should be able to be purchased over the counter. Allowing women to purchase birth control over the counter would most benefit women in rural and underserved areas, as they wouldnt need to visit a physician for a prescription, saving both time and money.
In a strange twist, women’s health groups aren’t exactly happy with the push. Groups like Planned Parenthood note that making the medications may actually drive up prices, since the contraception mandate of the Affordable Care Act means that most insurers will cover prescription birth control but not a medication that is over the counter. The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists similarly denounced the plan, saying that instead of increasing access to contraception, the bill may do the opposite.
The debate over the bill highlights one of the key problems in health policy – the relationship between access, cost and quality. In this case, increasing access on one front may lead to increased costs – which in turn may end up decreasing access. That said, it’s certainly interesting to see conservative politicians taking up a women’s health issue that isn’t focused on restricting access to contraception or abortion services.