NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Lower Cost, Over-the-Counter Contraceptives

July 15, 2015

The idea of selling contraceptives over the counter has been around awhile and garners significant support. Senators Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) and Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) cosponsored Senate bill 1438, the Allowing Greater Access to Safe and Effective Contraception Act, to encourage the sale of hormonal contraceptives over the counter (OTC) without a prescription to make contraceptives more affordable.

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) estimates nearly seven million American women use oral contraceptives. This bill would potentially benefit them and possibly millions of others, according to senior fellow Devon Herrick of the National Center for Policy Analysis.

  • Almost all sexually-experienced women of childbearing age have used contraceptives; many will use them for up to 30 years.
  • An estimated 95 percent of American women will take oral contraceptives at some time in their childbearing years.
  • Without effective contraception perhaps 70 percent of the 61 million U.S. women of childbearing age would be at risk for an unintended pregnancy. 

Allowing OTC contraceptives has economic benefits to consumers as well. 

  • Prices for prescription drugs fall by 90 percent or more within months of losing patent protection and becoming available over the counter.
  • For every $1 spent on an over-the-counter drug, consumers save $6 to $7 by avoiding higher prescription drug costs and unnecessary physician visits.
  • The proposal would also allow women to use their flexible spending accounts (FSAs), health savings accounts (HSAs) and health reimbursement arrangements (HRAs) to cover the cost. 

Over-the-counter drugs are the most efficient way to treat many medical problems. Nonprescription drugs comprise only about 1 percent of our health care spending, yet nearly 80 percent of the time when Americans have a health ailment, they first reach for an OTC drug. Allowing sales of hormonal contraceptives over the counter without a doctor's prescription would benefit millions of women around the country.

Source: Devon Herrick, "Lower Cost, Over-the-Counter Contraceptives," National Center for Policy Analysis, July 14, 2015.


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