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Emergency contraceptives may not be available on every base, but one so-called "morning after" drug, Plan B, is available from some military pharmacies and by prescription under the military's health care plan, a defense spokesman said.
The Pentagon's comments, provided in an April 30 statement, come as a group of lawmakers, led by Rep. Martin Meehan, D-Mass., are pushing to have Plan B made available at every military hospital and clinic.
Meehan's bill, HR 6024, was referred to the House Armed Services Committee, which could take up the issue over the next two weeks as an amendment to the 2008 defense authorization bill.
James Tyll, a spokesman for the assistant defense secretary for health affairs, said in a statement that two-thirds of military treatment facilities once carried Plan B, which was approved by the FDA in 1999. But after the drug was removed from the military's drug formulary amid controversy in 2002, hospitals and clinics are no longer required to have the drug on hand. The formulary is a list of drugs that every pharmacy should have available.
Each pharmacy decides what drugs to carry, and can add items not on the basic list. At locations where the drug is in not in stock, there are alternatives — such as a mega-dose of oral contraceptive taken in a specific sequence — that would have the same effect as Plan B and could be prescribed, Tyll said.
Plan B was added to the basic core formulary in March 2002 but it did not remain on the list for long. Within hours, the Tricare Management Agency started receiving inquires from lawmakers that centered on whether Plan B caused an abortion. Tyll said it was the Defense Department's view that the drug does not cause an abortion but rather prevents a pregnancy.
But after more criticism, Plan B was removed from the formulary May 8, 2002. The Defense Department is studying whether to place it back on the formulary, Tyll said.
"Since 2002, Plan B remains available to military beneficiaries," he said. "There is no policy prohibiting beneficiary access to emergency contraception, nor is there a policy prohibiting [military treatment facilities] from adding Plan B" to their respective formularies.
Tricare covers Plan B either through retail pharmacies or by mail order, Tyll said. Additionally, all military treatment facilities care "at least eight different types of regular oral contraceptive pills," he said.
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