When the Deficit Reduction Act took effect in January 2007, University Health Service hoped their supplies would last long enough to prevent birth control costs from rising. But it couldn’t hold out forever.

A Congressional measure intended to reduce Medicare and Medicaid costs, the Deficit Reduction Act restricts pharmaceutical companies from selling their products at reduced prices to some buyers — including colleges and universities. The cost of a one-month supply of the popular birth control pill Ortho Tri-Cyclen Lo jumped from $21 to $50 at University Health Service last week.

Rather than raise prices, UHS bought an 18-month stockpile of Ortho Tri-Cyclen Lo last year. But now with that supply exhausted, UHS was forced to increase the price of the popular oral contraceptive by more than double.

“We just kept our fingers crossed that we would be able to keep our stock and that the act would be reversed and nothing would change,” said Gwendolyn Chivers, chief pharmacist at UHS. “But that wasn’t the case.”

UHS doctors have begun suggesting generic brands of birth control to help students cope with the price hike.

Of 11 generic birth control options available at UHS, eight are available for $23.86 per month. The other three cost $24.86.

Dr. Susan Ernst, chief of gynecology services at UHS, said off-brand birth control works fine for most students.

“Often times, we can take a person on a brand that may be more expensive and find a lower price option that is acceptable for them,” Ernst said. “But not always.”

For some students, including those who use Ortho Tri-Cyclen Lo or NuvaRing a generic option doesn’t exist. Ernst expressed concerns that the higher price might dissuade some students from practicing safe sex.

“For most patients I’ve counseled here, we’ve found another alternative for them, not purely just condoms,” Ernst said. “But it may be that there are patients who didn’t even talk to us about it and just decided, ‘Gosh, I can’t afford that, so I’m just not going to use anything.’ I hope that’s not the case.”

Mary Hoban, director of the American College Health Association program, a membership organization of college health clinics, said rising contraception costs could lead to more unplanned pregnancies, impacting the academic future of some college students. But she time will tell whether the Deficit Reduction Act’s effects will extend beyond students’ pocketbooks.

Ernst said UHS has not seen a spike in unplanned pregnancies since the act took effect last year.

Hoban said she doubts Congress will reinstate the discount for colleges and universities anytime soon because to date attempts to pass legislation to this effect have failed.

“As time goes on, I get more cynical, because I’ve seen a lot of attempts come and go,” Hoban said. “I think we’ll eventually figure out a way to get it done, but it’s going to be very difficult in the current political climate.”

Painful pill prices:
Ortho tri cyclen lo: $50
Nuva Ring: $49
Ortho tri-cyclen generic: $23.86

CVS Pharmacy (1700 S. Industrial Highway)
Ortho tri-cyclen lo: $62.59
Nuva Ring: 63.99
Ortho-tri cyclen generic: 32.19

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