Commentary Contraception

The Affordable Care Act and Ella: New Potential for an “Old” Drug

Morganne Rosenhaus

In the world of emergency contraception (EC), August 1, 2012 also means one EC option just got a lot more affordable for many women.  

Earlier this summer, women’s health advocates toasted, tweeted and tumblr-ed with excitement when the Supreme Court upheld the majority of the Affordable Care Act – a landmark decision that changes the way we view health and insurance coverage in the United States.   

Women across the country were particularly enthusiastic because starting tomorrow, August 1, 2012 we have something big to look forward to-–access to contraceptives without copay through most insurance plans. It’s not just contraceptives, its mammograms, testing and counseling for HIV, and screening and counseling for domestic violence–to name just a few benefits for women. Finally, more women will have access to the most vital tools to protect their own health and plan their family without having to worry about cost.

However, in the world of emergency contraception (EC), August 1, 2012 also means one EC option just got a lot more affordable for many women.  

Ella was approved by the Food and Drug Administration in 2010 and was welcomed by the women’s health community. As women’s health advocates we know that every woman’s circumstances are different and a new emergency contraceptive, like ella, simply gives women another option to prevent unintended pregnancy. Unlike other currently available contraceptives, ella allows a woman to back up her birth control not just the morning after unprotected sex or contraceptive failure, but up to 5 days without any decline in effectiveness between day one and day five. Ella is particularly effective at preventing pregnancy because it works by inhibiting or delaying ovulation during the time when a woman is the most fertile.  

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Despite these clear benefits, few women use ella as their back-up birth control method. The most glaring reason for this –- many women don’t even know what ella is. Since ella is a prescription-only emergency contraceptive, women have to either ask their provider for a prescription or their provider has to mention ella to them. If patients don’t know about it and providers aren’t talking to them about it, women aren’t going to use it.  

Fortunately, this is not the first time women’s health advocates are tackling this problem. Way back when (…okay 2002), before EC was available over-the-counter, RHTP and more than 50 organizations came together to launch Back Up Your Birth Control, a campaign designed to let women and providers know they didn’t have to wait for an emergency to take action. Women could get a prescription for EC and keep it in their medicine cabinet, just in case.  

Fast forward 10 years. Although we have emergency contraceptive pills available over-the-counter for customers ages 17 and older, what happens if the pharmacy is closed, you don’t have a picture ID, or perhaps you simply don’t have $40.00 to $50.00 to spend? Those are the times you wish you had “backed it up.”

Now that ella will be available to most women without copay through prescription coverage, the good news is you can go ahead and ask your provider to write you a prescription. Don’t wait for an emergency to take action –- Back it up!

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