A year’s supply of birth control? Washington lawmakers say insurance should cover it

Tacoma News Tribune

By: Melissa Santos

May 2, 2017

Women in Washington state soon should be able to get a year’s supply of birth control at a time.

The Legislature has approved a measure requiring insurers to cover 12-month refills for contraceptives, instead of supplies that last only one or three months.

House Bill 1234 passed the House and Senate last month with broad bipartisan support. Gov. Jay Inslee is expected to sign it into law.

State Rep. June Robinson, D-Everett, said the goal is to make it easier for women to keep up with their birth control prescriptions and avoid missing doses.

“People don’t want to have to run to the pharmacy every month or every couple months,” said Robinson, the bill’s prime sponsor. “For busy moms or just busy people, it’s a hassle. And it contributes to people missing doses, which can lead to unintended pregnancy.”

A 2011 study by researchers at the University of California San Francisco found that women’s odds of getting pregnant declined by 30 percent when they received a one-year supply of oral contraceptives, instead of the standard one-month or three-month supply.

In addition, women receiving a one-year supply of birth control were 46 percent less likely to have an abortion, the study found.

The bill also says insurance plans must allow women to collect their birth control at the doctor’s office if the drugs are available, as opposed to having to go to an off-site pharmacy.

Robinson’s bill stalled last year in the Senate, which is controlled by a conservative majority of 24 Republicans and one Democrat. This year the bill passed the Senate on a 48-1 vote, with only Sen. Mike Padden, R-Spokane Valley, voting no.

Sen. Joe Fain, R-Auburn and the Senate majority floor leader, said passing the bill was a priority for him this year, as well as for Sen. Ann Rivers, R-La Center, the new chairwoman of the Senate Health Care Committee.

“I want to lower barriers to contraception for a number of reasons,” Fain said. “One, so that women can have more control over those choices, but also because there are plenty of times that women and young woman in particular need that medication for other reasons related to medical care.”

“It’s really difficult if you’re tethered to a three-month supply.”

Katie Rogers, a spokeswoman for Planned Parenthood’s advocacy arm in Washington, said five other states already have laws requiring insurers to cover 12-month supplies of birth control: Hawaii, Vermont, California, Oregon and Illinois.

Virginia recently passed legislation to follow suit, she said.

In Washington, no one testified against the bill during public hearings this year.

The bill makes one concession to insurance companies, Robinson said: It doesn’t require them to cover a 12-month refill for birth control if a person is in the last three months of a year-long insurance plan and if the person already has received a 12-month supply that year.

Inslee spokeswoman Jaime Smith said the Democratic governor supports the legislation and is expected to sign it. As long as the governor doesn’t veto the measure, it will take effect July 23.