Editorials

State dawdles to detriment of women’s health

A state law passed in 2013 allows California pharmacists to dispense birth control pills without a prescription, but women are still waiting for accompanying regulations to be approved.
A state law passed in 2013 allows California pharmacists to dispense birth control pills without a prescription, but women are still waiting for accompanying regulations to be approved.

California did women a real favor in 2013 when lawmakers voted to let pharmacists furnish birth control pills without a prescription. Though hormonal contraception is safe for the vast majority of women who use it, getting it has long been a minor hassle, typically requiring a doctor’s appointment, an office visit and, naturally, a wait.

But a wait is just what women here have had to endure in the nearly two, count ’em, years since the groundbreaking Senate Bill 493 by Sen. Ed Hernandez, a Los Angeles-area Democrat, became law. And, incredibly, the waiting still isn’t over.

Though national media have been touting California’s “new” over-the-counter birth control option, pharmacists haven’t been able to perform the service and won’t be able to until at least April, and probably later. The reason? The law required accompanying regulations, and that process has been preposterously pokey, even by this state’s leisurely standards.

It took six months after SB 493 was enacted just for the Board of Pharmacy to fund extra staffing to develop a draft protocol for pharmacists furnishing contraception. Then it took another seven months for the pharmacy and medical boards to approve the proposal.

Then four months for rule-making and public comment. Then three months while the pharmacy board decided to amend, and then not to. Then two months with board lawyers. Then to the Department of Consumer Affairs, overseeing the board, and the Business, Consumer Services and Housing Agency, above that.

This week it landed at the Department of Finance, which gets 30 working days to assess the financial impact. Then the Office of Administrative Law will get 30 working days, at least, to review the rule-making. Plus more time if anything needs tweaking.

All this to tell pharmacists to take a woman’s blood pressure, show her instructions, notify her doctor and create a medical record when they hand her pills over. Oregon passed a similar law in July, and its druggists expect to start dispensing birth control next month.

In fairness, the Board of Pharmacy – 11 appointees of Gov. Jerry Brown, two appointees of the Democrat-controlled Legislature, all middle-aged and with just four females – has had a full plate. The birth control rules coincided with big projects, including inspections of about a thousand compounding pharmacies and the fast-tracking of over-the-counter naloxone, which can save lives by reversing opiate overdoses. And SB 493 also lets pharmacists dispense nicotine replacement and travel meds, which required some rules.

Still, tick-tock. A woman in line at the drugstore when this bill was passed could have a toddler and an infant by now, and still be waiting. Let’s expedite these last couple of hurdles and do women a favor for real.

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