CHICAGO – Governor Rod R. Blagojevich today urged Dr. Andrew C. von Eschenbach, the Acting Commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), to approve the application to make Plan B, the morning-after pill, available to women over-the-counter. After stalling a decision for more than three years, the FDA recently asked to meet with Barr Pharmaceuticals, the company that manufactures Plan B, to discuss making Plan B an over-the-counter medication. The Governor also said that if the FDA continues to fail to act on the matter, he will introduce legislation in Springfield that would make Plan B available without a doctor’s prescription in Illinois.
“Plan B is a safe and tested form of emergency contraception, and women deserve access to it. If the FDA continues to refuse to act, we, in Illinois, would be left with no other choice but to act ourselves and pass legislation making Plan B available without a doctor’s prescription, as it is in 45 different nations,” Governor Blagojevich wrote in his letter to Acting Commissioner von Eschenbach.
Barr Pharmaceuticals originally filed an application in April 2003 that would have made Plan B available over-the-counter. In late 2003, the FDA’s own advisory panel voted 23 to 4 that Plan B is safe and recommended that it be distributed over-the-counter. The panel also unanimously rejected the claim that women substitute Plan B for regular methods of birth control. During these proceedings, the panel received testimony from more than 70 women’s and health organizations, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Association of Family Physicians and the American Medical Association, supporting the decision to make Plan B available over-the-counter. But, despite the evidence and testimony in support of Barr’s application, the FDA overruled the advisory panel and denied the application.
Making Plan B available without a prescription is critical to its effectiveness. The first of the two pills, which are a high dose of conventional birth control, must be taken within 72 hours of unprotected intercourse, and the earlier in that time period the more effective it is. Many women may not be able to reach a doctor within that time period in order to obtain the prescription. Experts estimate that 1.7 million unintended pregnancies could be prevented each year if Plan B were available more easily.
To protect women’s access to emergency contraception in Illinois, last year, after several women in Chicago were denied access to the contraceptives that their doctors prescribed for them, the Governor put an emergency rule in place to quickly ensure other women’s health wouldn’t be compromised by pharmacists with political agendas. The rule, now permanent, says if a pharmacy is in the business of selling contraceptives, then it must make sure its customers’ prescriptions for FDA-approved birth control are filled in the same way as all other prescriptions: without questions, lectures or delays.
Just yesterday, the Joint Committee on Administrative Rules adopted an additional rule filed by Gov. Blagojevich to ensure that women know their rights when dealing with pharmacies. The new rule requires Illinois pharmacies to post signs outlining consumers’ right to obtain contraceptives, and providing information on where to file a complaint with the state if a pharmacy violates that right.
If the federal government fails to make Plan B available over-the-counter, the Governor will introduce legislation in Illinois to do so.
“This would not be the first time we have acted to fill a void in leadership by the federal government. As President Bush continues to withhold support for life-saving stem cell research, for the second year, we are awarding state grants to fund adult and embryonic stem cell research. When the federal government changes overtime rules stripping thousands of workers of their benefits, we passed a law in Illinois rejecting the federal change. And as the federal government turns a blind eye to millions of senior citizens looking for relief from high costs of prescription drugs, we created the I-SaveRx prescription drug importation program - the first program in the nation to allow citizens to purchase lower cost, safe prescription drugs from state-approved pharmacies in Europe and Canada,” wrote the Governor.
The Governor has been a strong proponent of a woman’s right to have access to contraceptives and other important health care services over the course of his administration:
- 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. 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. The Governor has signed legislation requiring insurance companies to cover screening for breast cancer earlier in a woman’s life, requiring ovarian cancer screening for women considered at-risk and creating 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.