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First Over-The-Counter Oral Contraceptive Rolls Out With Help From WNBA

by | May 16, 2024 | Reproductive Rights

Caitlin Clark, Angel Reese… and Opill! As the WNBA gets underway, there’s so much to be excited about. You probably already know how Caitlin and Angel – and so many other powerhouse players – are energizing the League, but did you know how the League is bringing its power to the fight to protect access to contraception? Let us explain!

This past July, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the first ever progestin-only oral contraceptive pill (Opill) for over-the-counter use. This critical step affirms decades of research that oral contraceptives are very safe and effective in preventing pregnancy, treating other health conditions such as menstrual pain, fibroids, and endometriosis-related pain, and reducing sexually transmitted infections and the risk of certain cancers.

The WNBA is partnering with Perrigo, the company behind Opill to raise awareness around reproductive health and health equity. This effort around civic engagement and advocacy will create a program to educate students on college campuses about Opill, reaching a key demographic that uses contraception. This groundbreaking partnership has the potential to increase access and promote education around Opill to help reach millions of people.

So, why does the WNBA care about Opill? Well, access to comprehensive and quality contraceptive care is an essential part of healthcare and a matter of bodily autonomy and dignity. Contraception is one of the most widely used types of healthcare, with more than 65% of women of reproductive age currently using some form of contraception. Meaningful access gives people control over their bodies and their reproductive futures. It is also an essential avenue for economic security. For example, access to contraception plays a critical role in reducing the gender pay gap because it allows women to invest in their education and careers and decide if, when, and how they want to start families. Research shows that the birth control pill has increased women’s wages by more than 30% since the 1960s. It has also been associated with higher educational attainment and career advancement for many women.

How over-the-counter (OTC) contraception can help improve access

The ability to access oral contraceptives without a health care provider’s prescription helps combat existing barriers to care, particularly for the more than 19 million women of reproductive age in the United States who live in contraceptive deserts and struggle to access a provider to obtain contraception or a prescription. Barriers to access can include needing to take often unpaid time off work to travel to a provider, transportation costs, childcare costs, and more. Furthermore, most contraceptive deserts are in rural areas, which already face high rates of health provider shortages, making it even harder to get a prescription for contraception. Research also shows that OTC oral contraceptives can benefit populations who have historically faced the greatest barriers to access, such as young people, people who are uninsured, people of color, and low-income people. The FDA approved Opill without age restrictions and without the need to use insurance which would reduce barriers specifically for young people who do not want to involve their parents or guardians and people who are uninsured.

As of March 4, Opill became available for preorder from some online retailers and since March 18 is available on major retailers’ shelves such as CVS, Walgreens, Amazon and online from opill.com.

What’s next for OTC contraception: How to further reduce barriers

Although we are pleased to see this historic move to make Opill available OTC, many people will not be able to benefit due to cost barriers. The suggested retail price is $19.99 per each pack of a 28 day supply, $49.99 for a three month supply and a six-month supply for $89.99. This past January reproductive health partners urged Perrigo, the manufacturer of Opill, and retailers to make Opill $15 for a three month supply in order to be affordable for all people. While this request reduces the cost, even $15 can be a financial difficulty for many marginalized groups, especially those who have low incomes or who are uninsured, both of which already experience the most barriers in accessing contraception.

Another way to make Opill affordable and accessible for all people is to include it and other OTC contraceptives in the no cost sharing coverage under the Affordable Care Act like other contraception. The ACA has allowed an additional 62.4 million women to have access to contraception at no cost, and because of the ACA’s contraceptive mandate, women and families have been able to save $1.4 billion out of pocket costs for contraception in 2013 alone. By addressing affordability challenges, people can not only get their medication but also focus on choosing the right contraception method for themselves.

We want to celebrate this historical moment – both Opill’s rollout and the WNBA partnership – in increasing access to one of the most commonly used forms of health care. This is especially crucial for those who are the most marginalized and oppressed. However, we hope that high cost barriers can be addressed by policies that foster affordable and equitable access to OTC contraception. Everyone should have access to affordable and quality health care, free of barriers.