Pharmacists, physicians testify in favor of bill to allow pharmacists to prescribe, dispense birth control


STATE HOUSE — Members of the Rhode Island Pharmacy Association, in addition to medical professionals and women’s rights activists, testified in favor of legislation introduced by Rep. Camille F.J. Vella-Wilkinson (D-Dist. 21, Warwick) that would allow pharmacists to prescribe birth control.

The House Committee on Health and Human Services heard testimony Tuesday on the bill (2023-H 5282), which would authorize a pharmacist to prescribe and dispense hormonal contraceptives, provided that the pharmacist has completed a training program approved by the state Board of Pharmacy.

“Taking time off work, finding transportation to a clinic and paying for a doctor’s visit is a lot of work to get birth control — provided you can get access to a primary care physician in the first place,” said Representative Vella-Wilkinson. “Pharmacist-prescribed birth control would improve the quality of life for so many women, which is an important goal of our evolving health care system.”

Dr. Andrea Arena, a Rhode Island resident and family physician testifying in favor of the bill, told the committee, “Access to primary care is a crisis both in Rhode Island and nationally; even my physician colleagues have difficulty finding primary care physicians for themselves and their families. Patients routinely wait months if they are able to secure an appointment.”

Rhode Island would join several other states that have existing laws allowing pharmacists to prescribe birth control.

Audrey Whalen, a pharmacist speaking on behalf of the Rhode Island Pharmacists Association, told the committee, “As the most accessible health care providers, pharmacists are uniquely positioned to improve access to contraceptive care and eliminate barriers many women face in accessing contraception.”

Dr. Beth Cronin, Rhode Island Section chair for the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, said she was “delighted” the committee was hearing the legislation and that the bill “will allow for improved access to contraceptive care for all who need it by eliminating the need for separate office visits to obtain a variety of contraceptive options.”

Under the legislation, the pharmacist would also be required to provide a self-screening risk assessment tool that the patient must use prior to the pharmacist’s prescribing the birth control.

Many other primary care physicians, Brown University medical students, the League of Women Voters and the Rhode Island Coalition for Reproductive Freedom testified in favor of the legislation. Sen. Meghan E. Kallman (D-Dist. 15, Pawtucket, Providence) has introduced similar legislation (2023-S 0103) in the Senate.