SALT LAKE CITY — A measure signed into Utah law this March allows women to receive birth control directly from a pharmacist under a two-year standing prescription.
But Kallie Faulkner called pharmacies in May and again recently without luck.
"None of the pharmacies even acknowledged knowing of such a bill," Faulkner said. "It's frustrating knowing I 'should have' access to something that I'm not actually able to access."
She said she recently started a new job and is waiting for her health benefits to kick in. In the meantime, Faulker said she needs to either use alternative methods of birth control or "pay astronomical amounts of money for a doctor's visit."
"Without health insurance, the cost of a doctor's visit, plus the cost of a prescription can be upward of $250. I don’t know of many college students, single parents or families with young children that have that money readily available," Faulkner said.
When Jordan Hatch ran out of her birth control prescription a few weeks ago, she called and asked for her pharmacy to refill it.
"They said that they couldn't until they contacted my doctor," she recalled.
She said she went in person to a Smith's pharmacy and tried to talk to them about the new law, and "they looked a little confused, and they just said, 'Sorry, it's our policy.'"
Faulkner and Hatch were both unable to access birth control through the new law because it has yet to be implemented.
The Deseret News recently spoke to state health officials and lawmakers who sponsored the law to find out how — and when — women will be able to get birth control directly from pharmacists.
How law will work
"It is not quite just over-the-counter. I mean with Tylenol, you just go in, you buy it off the shelf and you walk out … but with birth control pills, with medicine … a doctor has to prescribe a medicine and a pharmacist has to dispense it," said bill floor sponsor Rep. Ray Ward, R-Bountiful.
Through the law, a doctor at the Utah Department of Health can give permission to any pharmacist who wants to sell birth control to a woman age 18 or older under a two-year standing order, Ward explained.
The pharmacist will then need to go through a health assessment with her to make sure it is safe for her to take birth control.
The pharmacist will also need to give the woman information about the prescription and its risks, as well as "the importance of the patient having a relationship with a primary care provider and things like that," said Tom Hudachko, Utah Department of Health spokesman.
The law, part of SB0184, also allows medical directors from local health departments and physicians to issue the two-year standing order.
Hudachko said the cost of birth control received this way will be the same as purchasing it through the traditional method. Pharmacists may also charge for the required health assessment.
After two years, a woman will need to provide evidence that she has seen a primary care or women's specialty care provider, according to the bill.
That is because, according to Michelle McOmber, Utah Medical Association CEO, which supports the law, health officials want to ensure that it does not prevent people from getting the primary medical care that they need.
McOmber called the law "a temporary fix if you don't have that access to begin with."
Why it's not working
Bill sponsor Sen. Todd Weiler, R-Woods Cross, told the Deseret News he is "just waiting for the executive branch to implement (the law)."
Since the law passed, stakeholders have been working together to formulate the rules pharmacists will need to follow and the questionnaire they will need to give patients, officials said.
Weiler said the questionnaire that patients will need to complete has been approved by the state Board of Pharmacy and Board of Physicians and is pending approval from the state health department.
Hudachko estimates that the law will be implemented in November or December.
After the law is actually implemented, the next challenge will be getting the word out to pharmacists throughout the state, Ward said.
"And that will take a little bit of time, a little bit of getting used to, I'm sure," he said.
However, Ward said the Utah Pharmacy Association supported the law and should educate pharmacists in the state.
The bill does not technically require pharmacists to prescribe birth control to women who request it.
However, "I don't think there would be pharmacists who would turn it down if they knew about it and understood the process," Ward said.
"I think, in general, having access to family planning services so that families …altogether can easily and without barriers and difficulties plan when they want to have their families, I think that makes our community a better place," Ward said.
For Hatch, who recently waited for her doctor's permission to receive her birth control, it's a time issue. "I would absolutely do the two-year one. It sounds a lot easier for me," she said.
Her doctor is about a half-hour drive away, and she said she needs to request time off from work to go to an appointment. It took the pharmacy about five days to reach her doctor and refill the prescription, throwing her off schedule for taking the birth control.
"Instead of having to constantly, every three months fill it, every year go into a doctor's appointment … for me, time is everything. And if I'm able to save just a little bit of time, then I'm going to jump for the opportunity," Hatch said.
"I think it’s safe to assume many women, myself included, would use alternative methods," she said.
Hatch said she hopes word about the law gets out.
"I hope that everyone gets a chance to hear about it. I hope that all the women that are currently taking birth control understand that this is a new law that's been passed, and I hope that they're able to utilize it," she said.