As the misery of another election cycle slowly subsides, a couple of memorable moments linger: Democrats repeatedly criticizing Governor-elect Brian Kemp for allegedly not having a health care plan, and Kemp bragging that his chain saw is “ready to rip up some regulation” (most of us hope he was being metaphorical).
With the final ballots counted, the campaign rhetoric should taper off. Hopefully, this means that policymakers can focus on finding common-ground solutions to real problems, like women’s health care. After all, in a list of the healthiest states in the nation, Georgia ranks near the bottom at No. 41.
Much of this can be attributed to a troubling dearth of medical workers in the state. Women’s health care is no exception to this problem. In fact, 79 of Georgia’s 159 counties have no obstetricians/gynecologists and 9 counties have no doctors at all. Even more troubling, the doctor shortage is expected to worsen. Perhaps this is an environment in which Governor-elect Kemp can put that chain saw to use (but not literally, please!) while simultaneously addressing women’s health care – particularly birth control issues.
As it stands in Georgia, before women can begin a birth control regimen, they must visit a doctor, receive a prescription and retrieve the medication from a pharmacy. This process can be time-consuming, costly and laborious. Everyone knows that doctors’ visits aren’t always cheap or quick. Given that almost 50 percent of Georgia counties are without an OB-GYN and some don’t have a medical doctor of any kind, accessing birth control can be geographically prohibitive — leaving women with fewer choices.
The simple truth is that visiting a physician should not be necessary to acquire birth control. A typical doctor’s visit to obtain a hormonal contraceptive prescription involves only a self-reported medical history and a blood pressure check. This can easily be done by someone other than a doctor. And in many cases, it already is.
In fact, in states across the country, pharmacists already provide the basic exam services required for birth control prescriptions. Rather than requiring an unnecessary doctor’s exam, 10 states and the District of Columbia have adopted a pharmacy-access paradigm over the last few years. In these states, pharmacists who have completed additional, specialized training can prescribe birth control after performing a regular examination based on the same eligibility criteria used by physicians.
This model simply increases birth control’s access without any added risks. Indeed, the pharmacy-access model reduces many hazards associated with limited birth control availability. Contraceptive access is a crucial element in reducing unplanned pregnancies, and this paradigm expands access. Moreover, many women suffer from various ailments with painful symptoms that birth control can alleviate. The pharmacy model simply permits them to more easily receive the relief that they need.
Georgia should seriously consider adopting the pharmacy-access model. Women will be able to more conveniently obtain birth control for either family-planning purposes or as treatment for several maladies. Removing doctors from the equation eliminates a potentially expensive and time-consuming component of the process — thus especially aiding underprivileged women. Further, adopting this new paradigm addresses the accessibility problem that many women face in rural Georgia, where there are few doctors.
In the end, a counterproductive, government-created barrier to better health — like the current birth control paradigm — is the epitome of unnecessary regulation. If Governor-elect Kemp wants to abolish ill-conceived regulations, this is a great place to start.
Ordinarily, issues related to women’s reproductive health are hot-button topics that are sure to be contentious. But birth control access should be different. The pharmacy-access model shows great promise. As such, Georgians should be eager to let the new governor take his chain saw to this needless regulation.
Marc Hyden is the Director of State Government Affairs for the R Street Institute, and he is a longtime Georgia resident. You can follow him on Twitter at @marc_hyden.
Courtney Joslin is a Commercial Freedom fellow for the R Street Institute and is based in Alabama. You can follow her on Twitter at @courtneyatlas.