On Monday, Jan. 8, the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services (NCDHHS) announced that the department is now enrolling pharmacists as Medicaid providers and paying for contraceptive counseling services provided in pharmacies.

The cost of those counseling services had been one key barrier to contraception access for some.

On Wednesday, Jan. 10 the department will celebrate the changes and increased accessibility of the services with a big media event at Central Pharmacy on Duke Street in Durham.  It will be something of a Contraception Celebration.

According to state health officials, making contraception easier to obtain will improve life in the state in many ways.

“Expanding access to reproductive life planning is a critical component of NCDHHS’ commitment to improving the health and well-being of children and families across North Carolina,” a January 8 NCDHHS press release stated announcing the change.  “Access to contraception empowers people to make informed choices about if and when they want to have children, decreases unintended pregnancies and promotes the educational and professional advancement of parents.”

Two years ago, the North Carolina General Assembly passed a law that authorized pharmacists across the state to dispense contraception without a prescription from a provider. At first, the pharmacists could dispense the contraceptives through a Statewide Standing Order from the state’s health director. Later, the North Carolina Board of Pharmacy and Medical Board adopted the standing orders as “approved protocols” under which pharmacists can dispense medications – which are covered by Medicaid with no co-pay required.

Despite that, pharmacies noted that a lack of reimbursement for the required evaluation, risk assessment and counseling services was a barrier to access.  The new action taken by NC Medicaid will lessen that barrier.

State Health Director and Chief NCDHHS Medical Officer Dr. Elizabeth Cuervo Tilson, who will be at the event in Durham along with many other state health officials, explained the reasoning.

“Our goal is that all families have the opportunity to thrive,” she stated. “More than half of all pregnancies in North Carolina are unintended, which can unfortunately lead to poor maternal and infant outcomes. By expanding access to contraception and counseling services, we can improve the health of moms, babies and families throughout North Carolina.”