Birth control prices at college clinics around the country have been going up for years, but this year, as prices continue to rise, there is a recently turned over-the-counter method on the table – the morning-after pill.
The Food and Drug Administration approved Plan B for over-the-counter use for women 18 and older in August 2006, and UCSB Student Health began selling it in December. According to Student Health Pharmacy Director Diane Bell, more students have been buying Plan B since the pill became available over the counter, and since the prices of “Plan A” birth control have risen up to three times as much for a month’s supply.
The price increase is the result of a piece of federal legislation that went into effect in January designed to make affordable healthcare more available to low-income families. But in turn, this legislation forced pharmaceutical companies to stop selling discounted contraceptives to colleges.
Though Plan B contains the same hormones as most leading birth control pills, Bell said it is unadvisable to use it as a replacement of another birth control method, a condom or spermicide. According to the Plan B website, because of its strength, side effects and effectiveness as compared to regular methods, the pill is designed as an emergency backup method only and should be used only if another method fails.
Plan B is different than the Abortion Pill – also known as RU486 – and it works best within 24 hours of unprotected sex. It stops the release of an egg, stops fertilization or prevents a fertilized egg from attaching to the wall of the uterus. The side effects of Plan B include irregularity in menstruating, dizziness and nausea.
“The FDA approved Plan B for over-the-counter use in August,” Bell said. “We began selling it as soon as we could purchase it from the manufacturer, Barr Laboratories, in December 2006.”
Bell said a package of Plan B costs $23.35 at Student Health. At Rite Aid Pharmacy on Fairview Avenue in Goleta, the suggested price for Plan B is $43.67. One pharmacy manager said about 15 Plan B packs are sold per week.
In comparison, birth control pills at Student Health often cost an average of $41 per month for uninsured students, said Student Health Director Elizabeth Downing. The prices range from $21.42 to $65.76 for one month.
Bell said the previously discounted contraceptives – which cost as little as $10 per month – will be going up in price because the drug companies have no reason to continue selling birth control to college campuses at affordable rates under the Deficit Reduction Act of 2005, which went into effect this year.
The federal law is a direct result of Medicaid being revamped, and limits the number of facilities that qualify for discounted prices on products such as birth control from numerous drug companies.
According to Downing, the government had good intentions in enacting the bill. As part of the recent “healthcare for all” discussions, Medicaid changes and the Deficit Reduction Act were designed to make affordable health care available to lower-income families. However, “low income” does not include tuition-paying college students.
Under the law, drug companies must now pay more to participate in Medicaid, so fewer corporations are prepared to continue offering discounted drugs to colleges across the nation. Bell said Student Health purchases their contraceptives from Ortho-McNeil, Inc., Organon and Cardinal Health, a wholesale generic seller.
“We lost our contracts [with the drug companies] on all of our birth control products, including Desogen and NuvaRing,” Bell said.
Laury Oaks, professor of women’s studies and advisor of UCSB Voices for Planned Parenthood, believes the enacting of the federal bill will bring about more repercussions than just economic concerns.
“With this increased burden comes the opportunity for UCSB women and men to have a different sort of ‘sex talk’ with their partners: in-depth conversations about the financial, emotional and political aspects of contraception in the U.S. today,” Oaks said.
Ortho Tri-Cyclen Lo is the lowest-priced form of oral contraceptive offered at Student Health. Downing said as soon as officials became aware of the new law last December, they ordered enough Ortho Tri-Cyclen Lo at the discounted price to have a stockpile and maintain the low price for students, which is currently $21.42.
Downing said the stockpile is running low after several months of rationing a limited quantity to students, and they will have to increase the price soon.
“We won’t be able to subsidize it for long because we are obviously having to pay too, and then pass it along to students if something doesn’t change,” Downing said. “Hopefully it will.”
Loestrin 24 Fe is priced at $43 per month, NuvaRing is $60.45, LoOvral is $39.89 and Yasmin costs $59.31. At Rite Aid, Yasmin costs $52.00 without insurance.
Downing said students insured with Student Health pay the prescription co-pay of $25 per month, $40 for two months, and $50 for three months of contraceptives. Those students covered by other insurance must pay the full amount.
Christie Benson, a first-year communication major, is one of the students affected by the spike in price.
“I usually get three months worth and I have a different insurance company,” Benson said. “I didn’t assume it was going to be that much when I went in, but it turned out to be over $90. I’m never going back there for birth control.”
According to Downing, the American College Health Association will continue lobbying on behalf of the colleges and the students to lower the increasing prices imposed by the drug companies.
Another option becoming more popular, Downing said, is doctor-implanted intrauterine devices that can last for up to five years and are much cheaper overall.