Increased Access to Birth Control at UCI

by ursavoice

Ali Chabot, Class of 2017
Olivia Weber, Class of 2017
Laura Lively, Class of 2017

For those of you who aren’t yet aware, we have been advocating for the UCI Student Health Center to adopt a law called the “Pharmacist Protocol” ever since we found out about its passage in California. This law, which was unanimously passed in the California Legislature, permits pharmacists to prescribe certain forms of birth control to women without an appointment with a primary care physician. Initially, we drafted a petition (which many of you signed) calling on the Student Health Center Clinical Staff Committee to implement this protocol. We then met with the Student Health Center Clinical Staff Committee to present our petition, and we had numerous phone calls and emails with representatives from this Committee in the months that followed.

We initially achieved some progress in regard to the Health Center’s policies regarding dispensing birth control: the Committee agreed to remove a requirement that women make a three month “check in” appointment after receiving a new birth control prescription in order to receive the remaining nine months of their prescription. The Committee also agreed to do away with their policy of requiring women to undergo pelvic exams in order to obtain a birth control prescription. In all honestly, the fact that those hurdles were in place at the Health Center to begin with was pretty shocking to us–neither one is reasonably related to a woman’s health regarding birth control’s effects on the body.

When the Committee agreed to remove these hurdles, we were glad that women no longer have to deal with these unnecessary and frustrating barriers to gaining reproductive health services. However, we remained concerned about the Health Center continuing to force women to make an appointment with a physician in order to obtain birth control — especially in light of the medical community’s consensus that appointments are not necessary and in light of the wait times associated with primary care appointments. We decided to go public with our arguments for a number of reasons, including that we wanted to raise awareness about this issue across campuses and up to the office of President Napolitano. We wrote an Op-Ed that was published in the L.A. Times outlining our arguments and advocating for UC campuses to adopt the Pharmacist Protocol. Our article placed great emphasis on the fact that the UC system–under President Napolitano’s leadership–supported the passage of the Pharmacist Protocol in front of the California legislature. Shortly after our Op-Ed went live, the Clinical Staff Committee emailed us announcing a new online system for obtaining birth control that they promised to implement shortly.

This online system, which went live on October 6th, involves filling out a health questionnaire that is then reviewed by a physician. After review, the physician notifies the requesting patient that she wrote a prescription, or she will tell the patient that she needs to come in for a primary care appointment. Alternatively, if an annual blood pressure reading is not on file for the patient, the physician will notify the patient that she must come in at her convenience for a seated blood pressure exam before picking up her prescription.

While we were excited about this new system because it appeared to increase access to birth control, we were worried that there would be no accountability regarding how well the system was working and no way to track its progress. We also had a number of questions: How long does it take for a physician to review the questionnaire? How often is a woman told to make a primary care appointment? If a woman does make a primary care appointment, is she required to receive a pap exam?

We set up another meeting with the Clinical Staff Committee to discuss both our appreciation for their willingness to increase access to birth control, but also, we wanted to express our concerns. We were pleased to show up to this recent meeting and see actual data of how this online system is working:

  1. According to their records, 18 percent of women were required to see a primary care physician (but not required to receive a pap exam) after filling out the questionnaire.

  2. Of the 82 percent of women who were able to go straight to the pharmacy to pick up their prescription, 44 percent received their birth control pills within three days.

  3. 46 percent of women had to come in to have their blood pressure taken (a no-cost, walk-in consultation lasting 15 to 30 minutes).
  4. All questionnaires are reviewed within 48 hours.

We were happy to see these numbers, and even the Administrative Director of the Student Health Center, Chuck Adams, said that this system was clearly increasing access to birth control. Mr. Adams also said that the Health Center has not ruled out the Pharmacist Protocol.  The Health Center is beginning what will likely be a long process to expand the services it provides as well as the physical space of the Student Health Center.

We hope that the Health Center does eventually implement the Pharmacist Protocol, especially since UC Berkeley is seeking to implement it soon, but we are happy with the progress we have made so far. In the meantime, this online system seems relatively easy and accessible to women students.

Please let us know if you have any questions about our advocacy or if you experience any issues with obtaining a birth control prescription at the Student Health Center.