BY NICOLE ABER
Daily Staff Reporter
Published March 26, 2009
Over the past couple of years, the price of contraceptive products has steadily risen to the point where it has become increasingly unaffordable for the average University student.
But hidden beneath the major national projects of President Barack Obama’s recently approved stimulus bill is an initiative with the potential to reduce the price of birth control pills that nearly 40 percent of college women use.
During the past two years, the price of contraceptive products has skyrocketed at health centers on college campuses across the country after provisions made to the Deficit Reduction Act took effect in January 2007. These provisions dissuaded contraception manufacturers from continuing discounts to college health centers by instating a monetary penalty on these reductions.
Through Obama’s budget, the financial restrictions on these discounts will be lifted, pumping up anticipation for college health clinics across the country that drug companies may reinstate such discounts, said Mary Hoban, director of the American College Health Association.
“What will happen now is it will allow the manufacturer to reinstate (the discounts), (but it) can’t guarantee that they will,” Hoban said. “The bill doesn’t say that they have to do it. It just removes the financial barrier that was put in place by the Deficit Reduction Act.”
When employees at the University Health Service found out about the January 2007 provisions that would terminate the discounts, it stocked up on a year’s supply of the birth control pill Ortho Tri-Cyclen Lo, so the price would remain at the discounted level of $21 per cycle, according to Gwendolyn Chivers, chief pharmacist at UHS.
But when the supply ran out in September 2008, the price rose to $50.
To combat the price increase, Chivers said UHS “switched many of our brand prescription birth control products over to generic because we wanted to keep them in that $20-something price range.”
But despite switching many patients from the more expensive brand name products to generic contraceptives, certain products like Ortho Tri-Cyclen Lo and the NuvaRing, also priced at $50 per cycle, do not have generic equivalents, Chivers said.
Dr. Susan Ernst, chief of gynecology services at UHS, said that although most patients switched to the generic brand of their birth control product, for those patients on products like the NuvaRing, switching to a different form of contraception was not always the best option.
Ernst said the NuvaRing “is one of those items that really became unaffordable for some patients,” and that because there is no generic alternative, patients would have to switch to a pill form of contraception.
Despite the increase in pricing for many brand-name contraceptive products, Ernst said she did not see a decrease in patients’ use of birth control altogether.
“I really don’t feel like patients didn’t use contraception because of that problem,” Ernst said. “I feel like we were able to find something that was acceptable to them and often that was a generic because we could give them a lower price.”
But for some students, generic products were not always advised.
Engineering sophomore Lianna Gordon started getting her birth control product from UHS in 2008. But after switching to the birth control pill Yaz, her doctor advised her not to switch to the generic brand when prices rose.
Gordon said she stopped buying Yaz from UHS, because the price was $50, double the price she would pay for the same product at The Village Apothecary located at 1112 South University Ave.
But Gordon said if drug companies reinstated the discounts with college health clinics, she would reconsider where she purchases her birth control.
“If they’re doing discounts through the school, then yeah, I would definitely go through UHS,” Gordon said.
Chivers said that on the same day UHS received the news that the federal budget bill could potentially lower the price of birth control products, it called the drug companies to inquire about reinstating the contracts that would provide them with the discounted prices.
“I’m just hoping they will think very positively about how we can move forward with the new language and be able to roll back the price,” Chivers said. “But that can’t be guaranteed because it will all revolve around the manufacturer and how they choose to handle this.”
Lisa Ellen, spokeswoman for New Jersey-based drug company Schering-Plough, said the corporation has not come to any concrete decisions about reinstating contracts but is looking into the possibility of doing so for certain contraceptive products, including the popular birth control pill Desogen.
“Overall we’re looking into the pricing and the legislation,” Ellen said. “We have not made any final decisions but we’re evaluating it.”