CVS is facing boycotts in dispute over mail-order birth control: 'This is incredibly dangerous'

People are calling for a boycott of CVS after the drugstore giant reportedly eyes cutting reimbursement coverage for mail-order birth control. (Photo: Getty Images/iStockphoto)

CVS is in hot water over a dispute with a health care start-up called Pill Club, which claims that the drugstore giant plans to cut reimbursement rates for mail-order oral contraceptives. The move would likely raise costs for those customers and add another barrier to birth control access. But in a statement to Yahoo Lifestyle, the pharmacy dismissed the accusations, calling them “extremely misleading.”

The controversy began Thursday morning, when the hashtags #CVSDeniesCare and #BoycottCVS began trending on Twitter. Those using the hashtags in tweets argue that cutting reimbursement rates would disrupt women’s access to birth control pills — particularly for low-income women, along with those living in rural areas and women with disabilities, who may not be able to access a physical pharmacy.

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NARAL Pro-Choice America president Ilyse Hogue wrote: “Learned this morning that CVS Caremark is cutting reimbursement rates for mail-order birth control pills, making it more expensive and potentially out of reach for tens of thousands of women who for many reasons cannot get to the pharmacy every month.”

In a follow-up tweet, Hogue added: “Women need birth control delivered for many reasons — physical challenges getting to the pharmacy, living in very rural areas, simple privacy concerns, or something else — it really doesn't matter. What matters is that they should not be financially punished by CVS.”

Social media users are also pointing out how important it is for women to have consistent access to oral contraceptives, since missing dosages can lead to an unplanned pregnancy. But others note that’s not the only reason women rely on birth control pills: Many take them to help with health issues, including endometriosis, painful periods, polycystic ovary syndrome and acne.

As one Twitter user pointed out: “The fact is that birth control depends on taking the pill every day without a gap. Mail delivery of this prescription ensures there's no gap in pregnancy prevention.”

Others are viewing this as yet another attack on women’s reproductive rights. Some are calling out CVS’ male-dominated board of directors and their reported support of President Donald Trump. According to a 2018 Wall Street Journal article that reviewed Federal Election Commission findings: “The largest donors to Mr. Trump’s campaign include political committees for CVS Health Corp.”

The calls to boycott CVS echo recent calls to cancel memberships at Equinox and SoulCycle after Stephen Ross, the founder and chairman of The Related Companies, which owns both brands, threw a fundraiser for Trump in the Hamptons on Friday.

Pill Club, a startup prescription delivery service that is covered by CVS Caremark, has gone public by posting a plea (“CVS, don’t take away access to birth control”) on its website. Pill Club states that the proposed cuts to reimbursement could affect customers’ access to birth control pills, as well as hurt their startup business.

Ali Hartley, vice president of legal compliance at Pill Club, provided a statement to Yahoo Lifestyle:

"Millions of women nationwide are already struggling to access affordable birth control, and Pill Club is trying to close that gap. We deliver to patients who are particularly vulnerable: women who live in rural areas, women of color, young women, and low-income women without insurance. In fact, more than half of our patients said that without Pill Club, they would likely have to stop using birth control altogether.”

Hartley added: “The actions of CVS could effectively deprive tens of thousands of these women of the right to make personal decisions about their own health care. We’re urging CVS to reverse course and be a leader in the fight to help women get the basic health care they need."

But in a statement provided to Yahoo Lifestyle, CVS pushed back against the claims. “Our coverage of contraceptives is widespread throughout our network of 68,000 pharmacies, ensuring accessible and affordable access to our members. The accusations being made by Pill Club against CVS Caremark are extremely misleading. Pill Club continues to be a participating pharmacy in our network and there is no impact on its customers’ access to contraceptives. We are committed to providing access to women’s health care and it is irresponsible for Pill Club to suggest otherwise in an effort to maximize their profits at the expense of our PBM [pharmacy-benefit managers] clients.”

The statement continues: “We remain committed to providing plan design options for our clients that includes coverage for contraceptive products, including birth control pills. Ensuring that the pharmacies in our network are reimbursed appropriately based on their business models helps our clients provide cost-effective coverage for their members’ pharmacy care needs.”

The conflict reportedly boils down to a contract dispute between the two companies over how much CVS pays the startup for the prescriptions.

But this isn’t the first time CVS has come under fire. In April, a pharmacist at one of its store locations in Fountain Hills, Ariz., refused to fill a hormone therapy prescription for a transgender customer. The ACLU of Arizona told Yahoo Lifestyle that the pharmacist “violated federal law under the Affordable Care Act with respect to the nondiscrimination protections.” CVS eventually issued an apology and fired the pharmacist.

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