First over-the-counter birth control pill to hit shelves this month

(The Hill) — The first birth control pill available without a prescription in the U.S. has shipped to retailers and will be available in most stores and online later this month, its manufacturer announced Monday.

According to Perrigo, Opill is available for pre-order this week from select online retailers and is expected to be on store shelves at major retailers nationwide in the coming weeks.  

A month’s supply will carry a recommended cost of $19.99, while the company recommends a three-month supply cost $49.99. Opill.com will also sell a six-month supply for $89.99. 

“Opill will be available at CVS.com and through the CVS Pharmacy app in late March. In early April more than 7,500 CVS Pharmacy stores will offer Opill and for added privacy and convenience, customers will be able to choose same-day delivery or buy online and pick-up in store,” CVS spokesman Matt Blanchette said.  

Pricing could vary based on individual stores.  

Opill was approved for use without a prescription in July, but it was first approved with a prescription in 1973. It’s what is known as a “minipill” because it is progestin only, rather than a combination pill of progestin and estrogen. 

When taken as directed at the same time every day, Perrigo is up to 98 percent effective at preventing pregnancy, the company said.  

But cost could still be a barrier. The Affordable Care Act requires insurers to cover preventive services including specific types of birth control, but only if they are prescribed. Insurers usually don’t cover over-the-counter (OTC) products. 

Studies have shown even a small cost barrier could present significant challenges to accessibility.

A survey from health policy research group KFF in 2022 found nearly 40 percent of reproductive-aged women would be willing and able to pay between $1 and $10 per month for such a medication, and 34 percent would be willing and able to pay up to $20 per month. But only about 16 percent would be willing and able to pay more than $20 per month. 

Federal health officials are reviewing potential changes on how best to ensure coverage and access to OTC products, and a Department of Health and Human Services request for public input at the end of September garnered nearly 400 responses.   

But the agency hasn’t made any decisions yet, and there’s growing concern that without action, a patchwork of state policies could blunt the potential benefits of Opill.   

“This transformation in access has the potential to be a game changer, especially for people who face barriers to contraception due to the structural racism in our health care system. Yet, at $19.99/pack MSRP, Opill will remain out of reach for many people working to make ends meet,” said Kelly Blanchard, president of Ibis Reproductive Health, which operates the advocacy campaign Free the Pill. 

Free the Pil wrote to Perrigo in January calling on the company and retailers to price Opill at only $15 for a three-month supply. 

Perrigo has established a patient assistance program for people who don’t have insurance and can’t afford Opill. 

The push to make birth control available over-the-counter has been happening for years, but after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade and ended the constitutional right to an abortion, the movement took on more urgency.  

The ruling has also made it harder to separate the issue of contraception from the politics of abortion.   

Health

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