The days of cheap birth control are over.
College students used to be able to get brand name contraceptives at discounted prices at their campus health clinics due to promotions.
But a 2005 federal law known as the Deficit Reduction Act changed the calculations that drug companies use when paying Medicaid rebates to states. This had a domino effect on birth control prices that started late last spring and has come into full bloom this fall.
The price of brand name birth control at college clinics rose from approximately $3 to $10 per month to $30 to $50 per month, according to news reports.
As a result of the change in law, contraceptives were lumped into a complicated rebate calculation in such a way that discounts to college clinics would increase drug companies’ payments. This made giving discounts on birth control a bad business move.
Susan Haney, assistant director for Student Health Service, said the change in price won’t directly affect GW’s health clinic. GW’s Student Health Service does not sell birth control pills because it costs too much to keep them in stock, she said. However, a clinician at health services will prescribe birth control and work with the student to try to find a low-cost option such as a generic brand or refer them to Planned Parenthood.
Haney said that most GW students on the pill would probably not stop taking it because of cost unless they are in a “dire financial situation.” Even then, there are other options such as Planned Parenthood and other organizations that subsidize the cost of contraceptives.
“When you think that there are four weeks in a month and how much it (birth control) costs a week, you might change your spending habits to come up with that,” Haney said. “To spend $10 a week on birth control, I think most women, to prevent pregnancy, would skip a couple of things to get it.”
Although GW’s campus clinic hasn’t been affected by the 2005 federal law, American and Maryland feel the squeeze.
Dan Bruey, director of American’s student health center, said the health center has prevented the upshot in birth control prices by subsidizing the cost. The health center sells two brand-name birth control pills at $25 a pack. They used to cost $15. It also sells NuvaRing, a vaginal contraceptive, for $35, a little more than twice as much as it cost last fall. In order to keep the prices low, the health center decided to take a loss this summer on brand-name pills as well as to add generics to their pharmacy shelves.
“We’ve heard concern from students that if they (prices) do go higher.then buying it (birth control) becomes a choice about what they can afford. I wouldn’t want to see that happen. I wouldn’t want female students to have to make a choice to buy gas or buy food or buy birth control. I hope that this won’t go that far,” Bruey said.
The future of birth control options is unclear at American, Bruey said. The health center plans to subsidize the cost of birth control through the rest of the fall semester, but have yet to decide on what they will do in the future.
At Maryland’s student health center, birth control can cost from two to four times as much as it did last fall. To combat the rising costs, the center sells generic brands, a pharmacist in College Park said.
Other universities across the country are also seeing an upsurge in prices. At Northwestern University, one contraceptive called Desogen which used to cost $15 a month has quadrupled in price. At the University of Illinois at Chicago, Ortho Tri-Cyclen Lo, an oral contraceptive, used to cost $7. Now it costs around $40.
According to a 2006 survey by the American College Health Association, a college health advocacy group, 39 percent of undergraduate women use birth control pills. According to a 2006 study on sexual health by the Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonprofit group focusing on health policy, 48 percent of women ages 18 to 24 use birth control pills.
The only option left is “to keep trying” and work with Congress to legislate a technical correction, she said. To do this, ACHA plans to send representatives to Capitol Hill to educate lawmakers on how important this issue is to colleges in their districts.
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