CHICAGO – After learning of new tactics employed by some pharmacists to get around a rule that prohibits pharmacies from refusing to fill prescriptions for contraceptives, Governor Rod R. Blagojevich today announced a series of steps to ensure that women have access to contraceptives.
“The law in Illinois is very clear: women should be able to get the birth control their doctors prescribe for them. Last year, I issued an emergency rule to stop pharmacists from turning away women with valid prescriptions for birth control. But since then, we’ve learned that some pharmacists are still trying to get around the law,” said Governor Blagojevich. “Lying to a patient about any prescription is wrong and illegal, and we won’t stand for it.”
The Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation (IDFPR) today filed a formal complaint against a pharmacist in West Peoria who demonstrated unprofessional behavior by allegedly lying to a health care provider about the availability of contraceptives at her pharmacy. According to the complaint, earlier this year, a health care provider attempting to call in a prescription for emergency contraception was told that the drug was not in stock. The next day, the provider called back and spoke to the pharmacy manager who affirmed that they carried the drug, and had had it in stock the day of the original call. IDFPR filed a formal complaint against that pharmacist for unprofessional conduct in her dealings with the health care provider. The pharmacist will have the opportunity to respond and to have a hearing before any discipline is imposed. The complaint is available at www.idfpr.com
. The agency has received similar complains from other health care providers and patients.
“I take time to counsel and discuss possible treatments with my patients and I have no expectation that a pharmacist should interrupt that relationship,” said Stephanie Cox, the nurse practitioner who reported the incident to IDFPR. “There are few things that can impact a woman's health, life and future as an unplanned pregnancy. Emergency contraception is a legal drug, prescribed by a licensed provider, and the pharmacist needs to fulfill their duty to dispense.”
At the Governor’s direction, IDFPR is beginning the process today of filing new rules that will require every drug store to post a sign listing the options available to customers who cannot get their prescription filled. If the drugs requested are not in stock, the pharmacy must do one of the following: 1) provide a medically acceptable alternative drug, or, 2) at the request of the patient, order the drug from their supplier, transfer the prescription to a different drug store or return the prescription to the patient. The signs will also list IDFPR’s toll-free pharmacy hotline number, 800-280-4149, and website, http://www.contraceptives.illinois.gov/complaint.cfm
, where a customer can file a complaint if they believe they were treated unfairly.
Also, IDFPR is sending letters today to all licensed pharmacies and pharmacists in Illinois reminding them of their obligations under the Pharmacy Practice Act and its rules. In the letter, Dean Martinez, Acting Secretary of the Illinois Department of Finance and Professional Regulation, wrote: “As you know, at the direction of Governor Blagojevich, the Department of Financial and Professional Regulation issued a rule providing that a pharmacy that is in the business of dispensing contraceptives must, upon receipt of a valid, lawful prescription, dispense the prescribed contraceptive to the patient or her agent without delay. Recently, a disturbing development has come to the Department’s attention, and the Governor has asked the Department to take immediate action. Certain pharmacists are deceiving patients about whether contraceptives are in stock, attempting to avoid the rule’s effect. The Department regards deceiving a patient in any way to be an obvious and egregious violation of the Pharmacy Practice Act. The Department will pursue discipline, which by statute may include revocation of license, against pharmacists who deceive their patients, and against pharmacies whose policies or practices allow such misrepresentation.”
Gov. Blagojevich filed the emergency rule last April, which has since become permanent, that protects women’s right to get birth control prescriptions filled promptly. The rule clearly defines the responsibilities of licensed retail pharmacies in Illinois to fill all FDA- approved birth control prescriptions if the drugs are in stock and a legal prescription has been presented.
Dr. Eric E. Whitaker, Director of the Illinois Department of Public Health, explained the importance of ensuring women have prompt access to the contraceptives their doctors prescribe: “Unintended and mistimed pregnancies can have serious medical and life threatening consequences such as low birth weight babies, pre-term deliveries and uncontrolled diabetes. When a pregnancy is unintended, there is little opportunity for preconception counseling, health risk appraisals, and timely initiation of prenatal care, all of which can adversely affect both the women’s health and the birth outcome.”
“Timely access and availability of emergency contraception can play a dramatically important role in reducing unintended pregnancies and abortion rates among Latinas. Mujeres Latinas en Acción commends Governor Blagojevich for standing up for all women and not allowing yet another health care barrier to Latinas by assuring that pharmacists in Illinois fill contraceptive prescriptions in a timely manner,” added Maria Pesqueira, Executive Director of Mujeres Latinas en Acción.
“The Illinois Nurses Association has a long and proud history of support for fair and equitable health care services for all, including services related to reproductive health. We believe that women have the right to make all decisions about their personal health care without coercion, including contraceptive coverage. We support the Governor's initiatives to assure that women in Illinois can continue to make that choice; and once made, it is the obligation of health care providers to support it without bias,” said Kathleen Perry, PHD, RN, President of Illinois Nurses Association.
“It is important for healthy families that women are in charge of their reproductive decisions. Ensuring access to contraception means that women with health problems or whose contraception has failed will still be able to make the right choices for their families. The Illinois Maternal and Child Health Coalition is a statewide coalition that advocates for healthy women and children by promoting awareness of options and supporting a woman’s right to make their own decisions for their families,” said Laura Leon, Acting Executive Director at the Illinois Maternal and Child Health Coalition.
“The Governor has been out in front of women’s issues, and this is one more way he is working toward equality for women. It is unconscionable that a pharmacist, who is a licensed health care professional, would even consider his or her personal beliefs over the needs of a patient and the decision she has made with her medical provider,” said Shelley A. Davis, Director of Programs and Advocacy for the Chicago Foundation for Women.
In other efforts to make sure that safe prescription contraceptives are available and affordable to all Illinois women, Gov. Blagojevich authorized changes in I-Save Rx program last month to include seven of the most popular contraceptive prescription drugs to the prescription drug importation program launched in October of 2004.
Prescription contraceptives, such as Ortho-Evra 20-150, Ortho Novum 7/7/7, Ortho-Cyclen, Ortho Tri-Cyclen, Alesse, Micronor and Triphasil are available from state-inspected suppliers in Canada, Ireland and the United Kingdom through I-Save Rx with savings of up to 79% for a three-month supply. Additional information is available through the I-Save Rx website: www.I-SaveRx.net
, or the toll-free number 1-866-I-SAVE33.
Over the past two years, the Governor has worked with lawmakers to expand women’s access to contraceptives and other important health care services.
- Contraceptive Equity in Health Insurance Act: In July of 2003, the Governor signed the Contraceptive Equity in Health Insurance Act, which requires private health insurance companies that cover prescription drugs to also cover all FDA-approved contraceptive drugs and devices.
- Contraceptive Coverage Awareness Campaign: In January 2005, the governor launched a coordinated effort to inform women that private insurance plans that cover outpatient drugs or services are now required to cover all FDA-approved contraceptive services and prescriptions.
- Providing health care to people who need it: Since Governor Blagojevich took office, 313,000 more men, women and children have received health care through the KidCare and FamilyCare programs – at a time when most states are not only not providing more coverage for the working poor, but also kicking people off of Medicaid or significantly reducing their benefits. This year’s budget included funding to add another 56,000 men, women and children. The Kaiser Foundation has ranked Illinois the best state in the nation for providing health care to people who need it. This summer, the state will lead a coordinated effort to enroll even more men, women in children in health care programs they need.
- Improving women’s health programs: Governor Blagojevich created the Illinois Healthy Women program to provide health care to women who otherwise would go without. To date, the program has served more than 100,000 women. In addition, Illinois has dramatically increased the number of mammograms and cervical cancer screenings since Governor Blagojevich took office. This July, the Governor will sign Senate Bill 12 requiring insurance companies to cover screening for breast cancer earlier in a woman’s life, Senate Bill 521 requiring ovarian cancer screening for women considered at-risk and Senate Bill 1 which creates a special instant win scratch-off lottery game called “Ticket for the Cure” to fund breast cancer research grants and services for breast cancer victims.
- First state to make Rx drugs from Europe and Canada available: Under Governor Blagojevich, Illinois became the first state to allow its citizens to purchase prescription drugs from Europe and Canada. More than 10,000 people have enrolled in the last few months alone to take advantage of lower prices (25-50% less) for over 120 name brand prescription drugs.
- Providing family planning and education: The Family Planning Program provides a range of medical services and education to more than 175,000 low-income women and adolescents of reproductive age.