Birth control pill price increase impacts students

Birth control pill price increase impacts students

By Kate Augusto

About 3 million undergraduate women are either taking or have been prescribed birth control, according to a survey conducted by the American College Health Association (ACHA) in spring 2006. After benefiting from a reduced price for birth control, women who get their prescriptions filled at their colleges’ health centers will now have to pay more.

However, because Northeastern’s University Health and Counseling Services (UHCS) offers prescriptions but does not fill them, this change does not directly impact Northeastern students, said Roberta Berrien, UHCS director.

Pharmaceutical companies used to give student health centers discounts for birth control, but this changed when the Federal Deficit Reduction Act (DRA) was passed in 2005. The DRA requires drug companies to offer prescription drugs at lower prices to places that provide Medicaid. The DRA technically would require pharmaceutical companies to give Medicaid providers the same break as college health centers, so when the act came into effect in January, pharmaceutical companies stopped giving the break to colleges so the DRA would not have to give the break to both.

Students at affected schools may see prices triple, said Mary Hoban, ACHA director. At Princeton, for example, contraceptives that were $6 a month in 2006 may be as much as $45 a month now. Any prescription medication that may have been purchased by health centers at a discount will also be affected, Hoban said. The Nuva Ring, a form of birth control, costs more than the pill, and since there is no generic equivalent to the Nuva Ring students who use this form of birth control may be forced to switch, Hoban said.

How much students are affected at schools depends on the student’s health insurance. Some health plans may limit the amount that can be spent on prescriptions, so if a student has a lot of prescriptions, this budget may be spent quickly, Berrien said. Northeastern does not have a limit, she said.

Berrien said she believes Northeastern students under the university’s health care program are fortunate.

“Insurance co-pays are very low [here],” Berrien said. “It depends on the prescription, but usually it’s quite minimal.”

Health plans may also differ on what they cover. Northeastern’s health plan covers birth control but not all do, Berrien said.

Students with no insurance coverage could potentially suffer the most.

“In Massachusetts every student is required to have health insurance, but we’re only one of two states who require this,” Berrien said. “There are a lot of institutions where it isn’t required. If [insurance] is not mandated, a student might try to get by without it, especially graduate students who have aged out of a family plan. For them, these low costs are crucial.”

Students without medical insurance are also at a disadvantage because insurance companies negotiate lower rates with pharmaceutical companies, Berrien said. So a student without insurance pays a higher rate for the same drug than a student purchasing with insurance.

ACHA is worried students who cannot afford the increase will stop using birth control.

“We’re concerned that the decreasing access to affordable birth control for college students is going to have a negative impact on their academic careers

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