Contraceptive Prices Rise Nationwide
College students across the nation are noticing a disturbing trend of prices doubling or even tripling for contraceptives they had previously received at large discounts. The change has already begun to come into effect at Oberlin.
While oral contraceptives, or birth control pills, currently remain at a low $15 at the Student Health Center, the contraceptive device NuvaRing has recently doubled in price from $15 to $30. Though birth control costs at Oberlin seem to be steady for the time being, campuses all over the country are being forced to raise their prices.
The price hikes can be attributed to the fallout of a 2005 federal deficit-reduction bill. Before Congress passed the bill, drug companies were able to supply colleges, among many other health care providers, with pharmaceuticals at discounts. This past January, however, the bill came into effect and forced drug companies to choose between attracting students with lower prices and paying larger Medicaid rebates. This complicated bill has even Student Health confused about the reasons behind the price rise.
“[Student Health] didn’t really know why or say why [the price has increased],” noted College senior Megan Dawson, co-coordinator of Oberlin’s HIV Peer Testing program, which is run through the Student Health Center. Dawson stressed that this new roadblock to affordable contraception for college students is just another symptom of a much larger issue: “I think it’s ridiculous that a lot of insurance companies won’t cover [birth control]…when they’re going to pay a lot more to raise a kid.”
Some colleges were able to buy in bulk and hold onto their discounts for a few months before increasing the price, meaning that many students are only now becoming aware of the increase. “Probably we wouldn’t see it for a while also,” commented Alli Carlisle, a College sophomore and staff member of the Sexual Information Center.
According to Carlisle, many Obies may not realize that this price hike might have a dramatic effect on those unable to pay for contraceptives without the help of the discounts provided by the College. “We have more students here than you would expect who don’t have health insurance,” Carlisle remarked.
“Fifteen dollars in a lot of people’s budgets could already be a lot of money monthly,” noted College freshman Victoria Werner. Another student who wished not to be identified shared this sentiment, adding, “One time, I was turned off from buying emergency contraception because it’s already so expensive.”
Another student who preferred to remain unnamed offered a bleak prediction about the effect of raising prices: “What other option is there?… I assume the reaction would be that some people would stop buying [contraceptives].”
Despite these financial issues, Dawson contended that Oberlin has a fairly strong network of sexual health support, with Lorain County Family Planning visiting Student Health twice a week and offering students free services.
Still, the price increase might have social implications as well as financial ones.
“I think it would have an extremely negative impact [to raise the price of birth control]… One of the most charming aspects of this place is that [the college realizes that students are sexually active,]” observed College freshman Emma Dorst. Dorst worried that increasing the price of contraceptives might send the message that the College is no longer willing to deal with the reality of its students’ sexual activity.
Regardless of the many pitfalls of this chain reaction, there seems to be no way to avoid its effects. “If this were to happen [at Oberlin] it wouldn’t be the kind of thing that you could change by protesting about it on a college campus,” said Jenny Sandler, a College senior and SIC staff member. Sandler stressed that any attempts to convince pharmaceutical companies to offer their old discounts again would have to be made on a national level.
Werner provided an idea for one possible solution: “I would like to see Oberlin eat the cost and still charge $15.”