Price Of Birth Control Pills To Rise On Campus

Liz Coffin-Karlin

By Liz Coffin-KarlinThe Daily Northwestern

The prices for birth control pills will rise significantly in university health centers and pharmacies because of a recent change in tax codes.

The Northwestern pharmacy sells about 30 different types of oral contraceptives, most of which are generic brands.

Although the exact changes in prices are not yet available, the university is expecting substantial increases. For example, one common medication is Desogen, a brand-name drug that costs students about $15 per month. According to NU pharmacist Jeff Rappaport, the university hopes the new price will be less than $50 per month.

“We had contracts with some (pharmaceutical companies) but those contracts have expired. We’re trying to replace them as competitively as we can,” Rappaport said.

The university is trying to negotiate with pharmaceutical wholesalers and manufacturers, but it has relatively little bargaining power because NU is only one of many college campuses nationally that will be affected by the rising prices.

Pharmaceutical companies used to sell the drugs at large discounts to health care providers, such as universities. But under the Deficit Reduction Act of 2005, having discounts increased the money companies must pay to participate in Medicaid. The effect of the bill on college students became apparent only recently because enforcement of the bill just began and many universities have been temporarily able to keep prices low using drug stockpiles.

“As usual, (the price rise) was an unintended consequence,” said Dr. Donald Misch, executive director of University Health Services.

The rising prices will especially affect those students who are not covered by university insurance and pay for oral contraceptives out of pocket, Rappaport said.

Because a number of students buy birth control off-campus, the number of NU students who use oral contraception is not available. The American College Health Association’s National College Health Assessment states that in fall 2005, about 37 percent of college students used birth control pills.

Some students, such as Weinberg and Music senior Anna-Louise Burdett, said they think the rising birth control prices will hurt NU’s efforts to promote safe sex on campus.

“Students have a hard enough time just affording tuition,” Burdett said. “I feel like safe sex is something that isn’t addressed much here, and this won’t help.”

The ACHA is asking the Centers for Medicare and Medical Services to reconsider the position of universities, and to include universities on the list of exceptions to the bill, Misch said.

The organization said that if university health care providers are not excluded from the bill, schools will have to increase the prices of oral contraceptives, raise student insurance premiums, reduce the availability of health care services designed to combat and detect the spread of sexually transmitted diseases and increase the money students will have to pay out of pocket.

The ACHA also expressed worries that students who cannot pay the new prices will stop using contraceptives altogether, which will increase the number of unwanted pregnancies among college students.

“The bottom line is that it’s going to be more costly,” Rappaport said. “We’re really trying to take care of the students as best as possible under the circumstances.”

Reach Liz Coffin-Karlin at [email protected]