Soon, ladies of any age will be able to walk into their local drugstore and pluck a morning-after pill right off the shelf with the same ease as buying a box of tampons or a soda. No more prescriptions, no more flashing IDs, no more telling a Rite-Aid pharmacist that you need a pill to prevent fertilization, like, now.
However, it may be months until the contraceptive hits shelves, and it will be even longer before prices for the pill go down. This is the first time in U.S. history that an emergency contraceptive will be sold over the counter. Here's everything you need to know.
1. When will I be able to buy over-the-counter Plan B: One-Step?
Plan B will likely hit shelves in July or August of 2013. What's the holdup? The maker of Plan B, Teva Branded Pharmaceuticals, has been instructed by the Justice Department to submit labeling instructions for non-prescription, non-age-restricted Plan B to the Food and Drug Administration. Once Teva submits their labeling language, the FDA will approve it "without delay," according to a Justice Department memo.
If you need to get your hands on Plan B today, you'll still need to ask a pharmacist if you're over 17. If you are under 17, you will need to get a prescription to get Plan B.
2. What’s the difference between the morning-after pill and Plan B?
There is no difference. "Morning-after pill" is a catchall name for emergency contraceptives. Plan B and other emergency contraceptives such as Next Choice, Ella, and levongestoral tablets are called "morning-after pills" or "day-after pills." Plan B is the name of a brand.
Friendly reminder: You don't have to wait til the next day, next morning, or next hour to take an emergency contraceptive! The sooner you take it, the less likely you are to get pregnant.
3. Will I be able to pull Plan B right off the drugstore shelf and take it directly to the counter or will I have to ask a cashier to get it for me?
Under the new ruling, drugstores and pharmacies must put Plan B on display shelves. But the contraceptives will come in a tamper-proof plastic clamshell, the sort that often guards razors and small electronics.
4. Hey, wait! This Plan B thing costs $50! Will Plan B be cheaper once it’s sold over the counter?
Sadly, it won't get cheaper for some time. The price is set by Teva Branded Pharmaceuticals, and as of now Teva has exclusive rights to the market because it is the only emergency contraceptive manufacturer approved for over-the-counter sales in the U.S.
Prices could go down once generic morning-after pills are approved by the FDA. But according to a Justice Department memo, the FDA has no immediate plans to approve generic formulas of Plan B. Teva's exclusive rights to market and sell the contraceptive for a $40–$60 price tag has angered many people — including the plaintiffs who filed the original lawsuit to allow universal access to Plan B. "Exclusive over-the-counter access to a single pharmaceutical company will allow for exorbitant monopoly prices, placing emergency contraception financially out of reach of millions of women and girls," said Mara Verheyden-Hilliard, plaintiff and executive director of the Partnership for Civil Justice Fund. "Imposing unjust financial barriers to access sacrifices the rights of millions of poor and young women solely to benefit a pharmaceutical company."
5. Can I get a coupon for Plan B then?
Yes. Teva is now offering a $10 coupon for Plan B. Click here to print.
6. Can I get another brand of morning-after pill for a cheaper price?
Yes, you can. You will likely want to start by calling your local Planned Parenthood. Here are some ways to find lower-cost pills.
7. Is Plan B an abortion pill like R-486 (also known as Mifeprex)?
No. Plan B is used to prevent pregnancy whereas RU-486 terminates a pregnancy. Plan B will not work if you are already pregnant. Plan B uses high levels of levonorgestrel to 1) interrupt egg fertilization or 2) prevent or delay ovulation. Levonorgestrel is the synthetic hormone that's been used in birth control pills for over 35 years.
You might wonder, Does this mean I can use my birth control pills as an emergency contraceptive? In some cases, yes. With certain birth control pills, four to five pills taken at once have the same effect as Plan B. Check here to see if your birth control pills can also be used as an emergency contraceptive.
8. Will my insurance cover the cost of Plan B?
The best way to find out if your insurance will cover the over-the-counter cost of Plan B is to call your insurance company. The National Women's Law Center has a helpful guide on what questions to ask your carrier.
9. Can men buy Plan B?
Yes and no. Currently males over 17 can buy Plan B by asking a pharmacist. Males under 17, with or without a prescription, cannot buy Plan B. The new ruling did not change this policy.
10. Will the United States be the only country that sells morning-after pills over the counter?
Nope. Plan B is available over the counter in most provinces in Canada.
Other countries that sell morning-after pills over the counter include China, India, Austria, Bangladesh, Norway, Sweden, and the Netherlands. In Chile, any girl over the age of 14 can get a morning-after pill over the counter — and at no cost. French public and parochial high school nurses are allowed to distribute morning-after pills to students. Ireland and Spain provide over-the-counter morning-after pills without an age restriction.
For a country-by-country breakdown, go here.
11. Have YOU ever taken Plan B? What’s that like?
Yes! I have, about three times in my life. Only once did I feel the side effects: bad heartburn and little bit of a headache, but it passed by the next day.
12. I have more questions! Where should I go to get answers?