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Pritzker signs laws easing access to birth control, expanding telehealth services

One of the new laws, which takes effect in January, aims to expand access to oral contraceptives by allowing trained pharmacists to assess patients and write a 12-month prescription.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker signs House Bill 135 into law Thursday, July 22, 2021.
Gov. J.B. Pritzker signs legislation Thursday allowing pharmacists to assess women and prescribe a 12-month supply of hormonal contraceptives.
Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Gov. J.B. Pritzker on Thursday signed a law allowing pharmacists to assess and prescribe hormonal birth control to patients, a move Pritzker and champions of the bill called a “common sense approach” to helping women get contraceptives from trusted sources.

The governor also signed legislation that expands the state’s telehealth services and bars insurers from requiring patients to provide a reason for choosing a remote visit over an in-person meeting.

At the University of Illinois at Chicago’s College of Pharmacy Thursday morning, Pritzker said women in the state have to “navigate a maze of requirements” to get their birth control prescriptions along with juggling a job, getting to and from their place of work and, in many cases, children and child care.

“I don’t have to have been through all of those challenges myself to know that there’s got to be a better way. And as of Jan. 1, there will be,” Pritzker said. “When I signed the Reproductive Health Act into law, I said that in Illinois we guarantee a fundamental right is a woman’s right to choose. Today, we take yet another step to fulfill on that promise.”

The new law, which takes effect in January, aims to expand access to oral contraceptives by allowing trained pharmacists to assess patients and then prescribe 12 months of hormonal contraceptives over the counter. One piece of the legislation, concerning insurance coverage, goes into effect Jan. 1, 2023.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker poses fora photo with state Sen. Melinda Bush, left, and state Rep. Michelle Mussman after signing legislation Thursday allowing pharmacists to assess women and prescribe a 12-month supply of hormonal contraceptives.
Gov. J.B. Pritzker poses for a photo with state Sen. Melinda Bush, left, and state Rep. Michelle Mussman after signing legislation Thursday allowing pharmacists to prescribe a 12-month supply of oral contraceptives.
Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Rep. Michelle Mussman, D-Schaumburg, a lead sponsor of the legislation in the House, said the legislation is a “ common sense approach to increase the number of trusted health care partners women can turn to for accurate information about what contraceptive method works best for them and their lifestyle.”

“It increases access to convenient locations all around the state, reducing unnecessary barriers to timely and consistent use of these products, which women rely on to self determine when is the right time for them to become pregnant,” Mussman said. “We want our moms and babies to get off to the best possible start.”

Illinois has a “concerningly high rate of maternal and infant mortality,” Mussman said. The law signed Thursday, House Bill 135, could help curb that rate since planned pregnancies have healthier outcomes, the Schaumburg Democrat said.

Dr. Michelle Brown, speaking for the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, said studies show that easing access to contraceptives helps women control their reproductive future.

“These studies reinforce what we know to be true — that women know their own health, and we can arm them with the correct decision tools to enable them to make decisions that will keep them healthy and safe,” Brown said.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker signs legislation Thursday allowing pharmacists to assess women and prescribe a 12-month supply of hormonal contraceptives.
Gov. J.B. Pritzker signs legislation Thursday allowing pharmacists to assess women and prescribe a 12-month supply of oral contraceptives.
Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Later Thursday, Pritzker signed House Bill 3308, which prevents insurance plans from requiring an in-person visit before a telehealth appointment and expands early intervention services that can be provided through remote means.

The legislation also requires a study by 2026 of the impact of telehealth on health equity and access to care.

Pritzker said easing access to health care services will help Illinois residents “live their best lives.”

“The ability to access care over the phone, or a tablet or laptop makes a world of difference for residents in rural communities, single-person households, those without a vehicle and families who live far from their primary health care provider, or those who don’t have any health care provider at all,” Pritzker said.

State Sen. Napoleon Harris III, D-Harvey, said the legislation will help patients and their health care providers have more efficient appointments as well as help disproportionately impacted communities have access to remote service “which were not equitably provided [during] the pandemic,” Harris said.

“Telehealth services are an efficient way to provide people with remote access to quality health care services,” Harris said. “Today, Illinois residents who cannot leave their homes, particularly for fear of COVID and disabilities, will now have access through this method. Expanding telehealth services will make Illinois health care more equitable, and now Illinois is moving forward in the right direction and we must embrace the future of health care.”