- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 21, 2015

In an effort to lower the number of unintended pregnancies, the D.C. Council on Tuesday advanced legislation that would require pharmacies to dispense up to a year’s worth of birth control to a woman at one time.

In a report on the bill, the D.C. Council’s Health and Human Services Committee noted that in 2008 the District had the highest rate of unintended pregnancies in the nation and that providing women with a 12-month supply of birth control at one time could help reduce gaps in contraceptive use that often lead to unintended pregnancies.

The proposal, which lawmakers say will provide women better access to contraceptives, will be included on the council’s agenda for a first vote at the May 5 hearing.

While the cost of some contraceptives is covered by insurance, the committee report notes that poor women may still face barriers in obtaining prescriptions if they have to travel to a pharmacy every month to get a refill.

“These constraints make accessing contraceptives costly for women, especially those who are low-income and have financial constraints that make transportation, taking time off, and child care, difficult,” the committee report states. “Enabling women to receive 12-months of contraceptives at one time will reduce the costs of these logistical barriers to accessing contraceptives, thus decreasing gaps in use and decreasing the risk for unintended pregnancies.”

Following a hearing on the contraceptives bill, committee head Yvette Alexander, Ward 7 Democrat, said the committee altered the proposal to ensure that the city’s Medicaid program would also be required to comply.

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Ms. Alexander said the change to include Medicaid came after witnesses testified that “a disproportionate amount of women who could benefit from this bill are beneficiaries of D.C. Medicaid.”

Philip Barlow, associate commissioner at D.C. Department of Insurance, Securities and Banking, testified that the bill would not have any effect on the cost of health insurance premiums.

The committee noted that nothing in the bill would prevent a doctor from writing a 1-month prescription for a contraceptive before authorizing a 12-month supply in case there was concern of potential side effects.

Nine of 11 current council members sponsored the legislation.

The “Access to Contraceptives Amendment Act” took a step forward on the same day that Congress was set to take action to oppose another law regarding reproductive health rights.

The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee held a markup hearing Tuesday on a disapproval resolution that would quash a recent law adopted by D.C. lawmakers to ban employers from discriminating against employees based on their reproductive health care decisions.

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Critics, including conservative activist groups, have warned the measure would illegally require organizations to provide insurance coverage for abortions or birth control regardless of whether they violate the organizations’ religious beliefs.

The disapproval resolution, a rarely successful maneuver, would have to be approved in both the House and the Senate and signed into law by President Obama to take effect.

• Andrea Noble can be reached at anoble@washingtontimes.com.

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