College Deals with Rising Contraceptive Costs
Oberlin College Student Health Services has become one of many facilities nationwide affected by skyrocketing birth control prices due to a flaw in recent federal legislation.
The dramatic price increases are the result of the Deficit Reduction Act of 2005, which came into effect at the start of this year. The bill, which altered drug company rebates to states for covering prescription drugs under Medicaid, also eliminated incentives for drug companies to offer discounts to college health centers and safety-net providers like Planned Parenthood. Lawmakers call this consequence an oversight.
The law has created an immense financial burden for undergraduate and low-income people and has elicited an outcry from public health officials and led to massive grassroots mobilization from students nationwide.
At Oberlin College Student Health, the NuvaRing, a small, flexible ring inserted into the vagina once a month that releases hormones to prevent pregnancy, doubled in price from $15 to $30 per ring this past January. Marilyn Hamel, coordinator for Student Health Services, said that due to the price increase “there are a certain number of women who are no longer using [the NuvaRing].”
While at some student clinics across the nation the price for birth control pills has jumped from $3 or $10 per pack to $30 or $50, so far Student Health has been able to consistently charge $15 per pack by switching pharmaceutical vendors. After being informed in December 2006 of the looming price increase, Hamel recounted, “We had to intensely search the Internet for vendors who we thought charged a fair price for birth control.”
Family Planning Services of Lorain County, a local non-profit that provides low-cost reproductive health care for women, operates a clinic Wednesday evenings in the Student Health building. Fortunately for Oberlin College students and community members, prices have risen only minimally at Family Planning, because they are recipients of Title X, funding provided by the federal government for family planning clinics.
Pat Berger, the executive director of Lorain County Family Planning stated, “Clinics that receive Title X get preferential pricing [on birth control], compared to other facilities. Most colleges don’t get Title X,” another reason why prices have disproportionately risen at many student health centers.
As with Student Health, Family Planning offers only three different types of generic birth control pills in order to keep costs manageable. They do not carry NuvaRing.
The Prevention Through Affordable Access Act was recently introduced by Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) in the Senate and Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-NY) in the House. If passed, the bill will bring down the recently exorbitant cost of birth control at student clinics and safety-net providers like Planned Parenthood by allowing them discounts from drug makers again.