Newly proposed legislation promising students access to affordable birth control aims to counteract a federal bill enacted last year that drastically raised the price of contraceptives sold at UCSB through Student Health Services.

New York Democratic Rep. Joseph Crowley introduced the Prevention Through Affordable Access Act on Nov. 1 and has received bipartisan support, as well as praise from Planned Parenthood and 23rd District Congresswoman Lois Capps. The bill aims to rectify an allegedly flawed condition in the Deficit Reduction Act of 2005, which caused national pharmaceutical companies to stop selling birth control to college clinics at discounted prices.

Student Health Pharmacy Manager Diane Bell said the pharmacy was faced with the difficult decision of how to split spending between birth control and other medical necessities for students.

“Our costs have gone up dramatically and our administration and students are grappling with how to provide contraceptive care versus other essential medical services and medicines to our students,” Bell said.

Although Student Health stocked up on birth control pills at the discounted price before the law went into effect, newer forms of contraception such as NuvaRing and the patch skyrocketed in price. Bell said the law may have led to students using different, less effective forms of birth control.

“It has forced students that could previously afford birth control to select contraceptives that may have more side effects and in some cases may be less effective for their individual needs,” Bell said.

The DRA, a direct result of changes in Medicaid reimbursement rules, limits the number of facilities that qualify for discounted prices on products such as birth control from various pharmaceutical companies. The Medicaid revamp in the DRA made it more expensive for drug companies to offer colleges birth control at low-cost because the businesses would need to pay more to take part in Medicaid.

According to a press release from Crowley, this was an unintentional side effect that the Prevention Through Affordable Access Act will fix at no cost to taxpayers by amending Medicare’s pricing restrictions, therefore allowing companies to sell discounted birth control to student health centers without facing penalties.

The DRA went into effect this January, but began taking its toll on UCSB’s Student Health in December 2006, as well as countless other universities across the U.S. As a result of the bill currently in place, the average cost of a one-month supply of contraceptives rose from between $5 and $10 to nearly $50.

According to the Planned Parenthood Web site, over 3 million college women and several hundred thousand low-income individuals have been affected by the DRA in its 11 months of existence.

If the legislation is approved, Bell said she hopes to see a reduction in prices of all forms of contraception at Student Health by 50 percent. The Prevention Through Affordable Access Act is currently backed by 101 Democratic and Republican co-sponsors in the House of Representatives, and Bell noted students should contact congressional representatives to ask for their support of the act.

“I’d hope the students look at elected government officials and be aware of how their actions can affect students,” Bell said.

Student Health Director and Santa Barbara Planned Parenthood member Elizabeth Downing said she completely supports the passage of the bill.

“It is imperative that family planning is accessible to everyone,” Downing said.