Birth Control Prices Remain High

This story was written by Tessa McClellan ,

Protection from unwanted pregnancies is becoming more expensive and daunting for more than three million college-age women as a result of the recent increases in the prices of birth control.

An unintentional glitch in the Deficit Reduction Act of 2005, which was enacted to help low-income and college-age women afford birth control, resulted in the economic vulnerability of the same women it intended to protect, said Elissa Bradley, an officer in the School of Public Health Reproductive Health Interest Group.

Planned Parenthood and other reproductive health clinics can still purchase pharmaceuticals at the discounted price, (but the bill) did not include an exemption for college health centers, said Hillary Howard, a graduate chair on the Student Health Advisory Committee.

For more than 20 years, university health care centers have been able to purchase birth control at discounted rates and pass those savings on to students, said Serena Josel, public affairs manager at Planned Parenthood Los Angeles. But when the error in the Deficit Reduction Act passed through Congress, both universities and students suffered as university health care centers could no longer purchase all forms of birth control at cheaper prices.

Josel added that the price of birth control has increased from between $5 and $10 dollars per month to $40 or $50 dollars per month on many college campuses.

Students all over the country are having problems with access to birth control, Howard said. While some legislators, including presidential candidate Sen. Barrack Obama, D-Ill., introduced the Prevention Through Affordable Access Act to reverse the mistake, it has yet to become law.

The price increases resulting from the legislative oversight could have serious consequences, Josel said, because the number of unintended pregnancies tends to increase when young women lack access to affordable birth control.

UCLA students have not been immune to price increases. Students began paying more for birth control in September 2007 because the birth control that the Arthur Ashe Student Health and Wellness Center had bought at the discounted rate ran out in the summer, Bradley said.

Those UCLA students covered by the Student Health Insurance Plan who choose to purchase brand-name forms of birth control, such as the Nuva Ring, EstroStep Fe and Ortho Tri-Cyclen Lo, have been affected more than those using generic forms of birth control, said Ann Brooks, nurse practitioner and nurse manager of the Womens Health Clinic at the Ashe Center.

Students with SHIP have seen an increase in their co-pay from $15 per month to $30 for Nuva Ring or $45 per month for Ortho Tri-Cyclen Lo. Without insurance, the costs are even higher.

A student with SHIP using a generic brand of birth control pays the same $15 co-pay that she would pay for other generic prescription medications, Howard said.

Prices of birth control for students without SHIP are more variable, she added, and depend on students insurance.

The benefit that students on SHIP get is that they always know what the prices of birth control will be, Howard said. (At Ashe) they try to make it as reasonable as possible.

Brooks said employees at Ashe try to help students by working with them to switch to cheaper, more generic forms of birth control similar to the brand-name types.

We basically try t accommodate both (students) medical and contraceptive needs and their financial needs, Brooks said.

Student activists and individuals working in clinics like Planned Parenthood are working with college students and low-income women across the country to motivate them to write to their representatives and push for change, Josel said.

Since the Deficit Reduction Act of 2005 went into effect on January 1, 2007, more than 400 UCLA students have signed a postcard petition and worked in support of the Prevention Through Affordable Access Act, which would fix the technical error, Bradley said.

Josel said she is optimistic that the bill will pass. But she added that interested individuals must continue putting pressure on those in Congress to get their support of the bill.

The fix for this would be so simple and it would cost neither Congress nor the American people a dime, Josel said.

Its extremely urgent for this to be fixed immediately so that young women can go back to accessing birth control for $5 to $10 a month.