July 26, 2019

Warren, Shaheen, Murray Question Secretary of Veterans Affairs Over Contraceptive Access Among Veterans

New Study Shows that Dispensing Oral Contraceptives in Year-Long Supplies Could Reduce Barriers to Contraceptive Use

Washington, DC – United States Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), and Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee Ranking Member Patty Murray (D-Wash.) sent a letter to Secretary of Veterans Affairs Robert Wilkie seeking information on the oral contraceptive dispensing policies of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). The letter follows a recent study which found that the VA could prevent nearly 600 unintended pregnancies annually by adjusting its dispensing of oral contraceptive pills (OCPs) to provide veterans with year-long instead of three-month supplies. 
The VA, which is the largest integrated health care system in the United States and the primary source of reproductive health care for many veterans, provides care to 9 million veterans and dispenses OCPs to over 24,000 veterans annually. Like many health plans, the VA limits dispensing of prescription medications, including OCPs, to three-month supplies in an attempt to lower costs. This restriction requires veterans to refill their prescriptions multiple times a year, leading to gaps in coverage if veterans are unable to refill their prescriptions. VA data indicates that 43% of veterans who receive a three-month supply of oral contraceptives experience a gap of at least 7 days over the course of a year.
In their letter, Senators Warren, Shaheen, and Murray outlined the barriers veterans face in renewing OCP prescriptions, including inability to afford the co-pay, difficulty getting to a clinic, trouble accessing a pharmacy, and widespread sexual harassment. The lawmakers cited a study conducted by researchers at the University of Pittsburgh which found that the VA could directly address gaps in coverage by adjusting its dispensing of OCPs from three-month supplies to year-long supplies.
“As the largest integrated health care system in the country, the VA is uniquely suited to be an innovator in delivery system reform, especially as the number of women veterans it serves continues to grow,” wrote the senators. “[W]e ask that you establish a VA policy of covering dispensing of contraceptives in one-year supplies as well as work to address gaps in access to contraceptive care for veterans.”
The senators asked Secretary Wilkie if the VA was considering changing its dispensing policies in light of the study and sought answers on what other steps the VA is taking to improve reproductive health care outcomes for veterans.
“Our veterans deserve the most effective access to reproductive health care the VA can provide,” the senators continued.
The senators requested a response to their inquiry by no later than August 7, 2019.