As the battle in the Colorado U.S. Senate race has raged over women's access to reproductive health care and contraception, Republican Cory Gardner has tried desperately to get out from under his longstanding support for the Personhood abortion ban initiatives–which, as everyone even remotely literate in Colorado politics should know by now, could have the effect of banning certain forms of so-called "abortifacient" birth control in addition to banning all abortions even in cases of rape or incest. After disavowing his past support for the Personhood measures, Gardner unveiled a new position on birth control–making oral contraceptives available over the counter. This strategy from Gardner served as a response to the charge that as a Personhood supporter he supported banning birth control, and also allowed Gardner to trot out an "alternative" to Obamacare–since one of the major benefits of the Affordable Care Act that Gardner wants to repeal is no-copay coverage for contraceptives.
While pushing his new plan for over-the-counter sales of oral contraceptives, Gardner has made a number of claims, chief of which is that his plan would be "cheaper and easier" for women than Obamacare. Unfortunately for Gardner, the Pulitzer Prize-winning fact-checkers at Politifact took a look at this claim: and yesterday pronounced it "mostly false."
Gardner, who has repeatedly voted to repeal President Barack Obama’s health care law, says he believes a "cheaper and easier" alternative is to allow the pill to be sold over the counter, meaning without a prescription…
We found that even the groups that advocate making the pill available over the counter — like Jessica Arons, president and CEO of the Reproductive Health Technologies Project and Dan Grossman, vice president for research at Ibis Reproductive Health — did not believe it was a cheaper alternative for consumers than requiring insurance companies to cover contraceptives without cost sharing. [Pols emphasis]
…Other birth control methods may be more effective or more preferable for certain patients, but they are also a lot more expensive at the point of purchase, said Alina Salganicoff, vice president and director of Women’s Health Policy at the Kaiser Family Foundation. Like intrauterine devices, which can cost $500 to $1,000 without insurance.
Bottom line, says Politifact:
Gardner’s plan is lacking in concrete details that would allow a thorough evaluation. There’s some evidence that health care costs generally go down when drugs are made available over-the-counter, but those studies did not look specifically look at the pill. There is a lot of uncertainty and experts — from advocates to economists — question whether Gardner’s proposal would be cheaper to most consumers or the health care system compared to the Affordable Care Act. And Gardner’s plan would only address one type of contraceptive, meaning the many people who choose other methods of birth control would see higher costs.
We rate the statement Mostly False.
In addition, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) released a statement today on the election-year proposals by Gardner and a handful of other Republicans to make the pill available over the counter:
Over-the-counter access should not be used as a political tool by candidates or by elected officials. [Pols emphasis]
Regardless of any current or future proposals from lawmakers, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not yet approved oral contraceptives for over-the-counter use, and any future FDA approval for such use would likely cover only a subset of oral contraceptive formulations.
Of course, cost continues to be a major factor in a woman’s consistent use of contraception, and many women simply cannot afford the out-of-pocket costs associated with contraceptives, OTC or not. That’s why ACOG strongly supports the Affordable Care Act (ACA) provision that mandates insurance coverage of birth control, as well as other preventive services, without cost-sharing for the patient. [Pols emphasis]
Separately, OTC access to oral contraceptives alone will not help to increase use of the most highly effective methods, such as intrauterine devices (IUD). IUDs are more effective than oral contraceptives, and because they can last for as many as ten years, they are also cost-effective. However, their initial out-of-pocket costs – which can near $1,000 – can be prohibitive for women who don’t have comprehensive insurance coverage.
Given the amount of coverage Gardner's "plan" for over-the-counter birth control has received in local press, and how heavily Gardner has relied on over-the-counter oral contraceptives as a foil to attacks on his long record of support for no-exceptions abortion bans, we really hope both Politifact's debunking and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists's rejection of the idea as a workable alternative to Obamacare receive as much attention.