OTC in Action Episode 2: Seducing voters with OTC oral contraceptives?

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OTCs are in action for political gain, with US Republican Senate candidates in four states proposing the oral contraceptives should be switched from Rx-to-OTC to expand access for consumers, whilst diverting free Rx OCs for consumers from mandated health insurance coverage, according to a Wall Street Journal article published on the 10th of September.

Under the Democrat-supported Affordable Care Act, Rx oral contraceptives are a preventive health service and, as such, are covered with no out-of-pocket cost to women. Many opponents of the ACA, including Republicans and health insurers, oppose this benefit. Of course, this opposition does not play well with some voters, including women who are eligible for the OC benefits. By calling for OCs to be switched to OTC, candidates are hoping to appease voters with more convenient access, while gratifying insurance companies by taking the Rx OCs off their benefits list.

Not so fast, though, says the American Congress of Obstetricians & Gynecologists. The candidates’ use of the respected medical group’s past endorsement of OTC OCs to justify the switch may backfire. Dr John C Jennings, President of the ACOG, rebuked the candidates, commenting: “We feel strongly … that OTC access to contraceptives should be part of a broader dialogue about improving women’s healthcare, preventing unintended pregnancies and increasing use of contraception, including long-acting reversible contraception (LARC). Over-the-counter access should not be used as a political tool by candidates or by elected officials.”

Ultimately, it’s a risk-benefit decision to be made by the FDA based on scientific and consumer studies, and there appears to be no such application on the docket. However, we at Nicholas Hall & Company believe OCs will switch eventually. Last spring, OTC INSIGHT Asia Pacific reported that the progressive Medicines Classification Committee in New Zealand, which often serves as a bellwether for Rx-to-OTC switches, said the proposed switch of several OCs to pharmacy-only classification “could work” if the applicant, Green Cross Health, included more collaboration with GPs in its proposal.

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