We are still early in the legislative session, but there has been a great deal of activity already. This often happens in the second year of a biennium.
Just as a reminder, our Legislature operates on a two year cycle — this cycle is called a biennium. It means that all the bills introduced last year are still active, including those that were left in conference committees when the Legislature adjourned last year.
In addition, new bills have been introduced — in fact a record number of bills for the biennium have been introduced, and only a handful will ever make it across the finish line.
In the House Human Services Committee, we have been working on a number of areas, and in this report I’ll focus on efforts to reduce unintended pregnancies. We have two bills under consideration: H.663 — Expanding access to contraceptives; and H.752 — Authorizing pharmacists to dispense hormonal contraceptives without a prescription.
In an effort to reduce unintended pregnancies and the need for abortions, some lawmakers in the Human Services Committee expressed interest last session in expanding access to contraception. Our committee is working on several tripartisan bills to do just that.
According to data from the Vermont Department of Health, 56 percent of pregnancies were “intended” in 2018, and those rates of “intendedness” have increased over the past five years in Vermont from 50 percent. (Keep in mind that “unintended” pregnancies include those who were “OK either way,” in addition to those experiencing “unwanted” pregnancies.)
H.663 requires health insurance plans to cover — without cost-sharing — at least one drug, device or product within each method of contraception for women as prescribed by a health care provider. If the health care provider determines a particular name-brand method of contraception is medically necessary for their patient, then the health insurance plan must cover it with no cost-sharing. This legislation expands coverage for voluntary sterilization procedures for men and women without cost-sharing requirements in most cases.
H.663 would also require school districts to make free over-the-counter contraceptives available to all secondary school students and would direct the Department of Health to coordinate with stakeholders to make free over-the-counter contraceptives available in a variety of settings statewide. The 2019 Vermont Youth Risk Behavior Survey indicates that 40 percent of all high school students have engaged in sexual intercourse, matching the national average. Nearly one-third of Vermont high school students report being sexually active; of those who were sexually active, only 32 percent used a condom during sexual intercourse.
We have learned that implementation and adoption of policy guidance and curriculum requirements for schools is inconsistent across the state. To this end, we have asked the Agency of Education and the Department of Health to collaborate in this area.
H.752 is a bill that proposes to authorize a licensed pharmacist to dispense self-administered hormonal contraceptives to a patient without a prescription, provided the pharmacist has received appropriate training and follows procedures specified by the Board of Pharmacy by rule. The bill would require health insurance plans to provide the same coverage for self-administered hormonal contraceptives when dispensed by a pharmacist without a prescription as they do when the contraceptives are dispensed pursuant to a prescription.
Testimony from pharmacists on this concept indicated significant support for this idea.
State Rep. Theresa Wood, D-Waterbury, also represents Bolton, Huntington and Buels Gore in the Vermont House of Representatives.