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2007-03-24 00:27:23 UTC
Birth control prices soar on campuses
By JUSTIN POPE, AP Education Writer
Fri Mar 23, 10:39 AM ET
Millions of college students are suddenly facing sharply higher prices
for birth control, prompting concerns among health officials that some
will shift to less preferred contraceptives or stop using them
Prices for oral contraceptives, or birth control pills, are doubling
and tripling at student health centers, the result of a complex change
in the Medicaid rebate law that essentially ends an incentive for drug
companies to provide deep discounts to colleges.
"It's a tremendous problem for our students because not every student
has a platinum card," said Hugh Jessop, executive director of the
health center at Indiana University.
There, he said, women are paying about $22 per month for prescriptions
that cost $10 a few months ago. "Some of our students have two jobs,
have children," Jessop said. "To increase this by 100 percent or more
overnight, which is what happened, is a huge shock to them and to their
At some schools women could see prices rise several hundred dollars per year.
About 39 percent of undergraduate women use oral contraceptives,
according to an estimate by the American College Health Association
based on survey data.
Many students could shift to generics but experts said they might still
pay twice the previous rate.
"It's terrible, because these are students who are working very hard to
pay for their tuition and books at a time when tuition costs are edging
up as well," said Linda Lekawski, director of the university health
center at Texas A&M, where the old price for birth control pills of
about $15 per month is expected to triple. "This is one thing they've
been able to benefit from for years."
The change is the result of a chain reaction started by a 2005
deficit-reduction bill that focused on Medicaid, the main federal
health insurance program for the poor. College health officials say
they had little idea the bill would affect them.
Before the change, pharmaceutical companies typically sold drugs at
deep discounts to a range of health care providers, including colleges.
With contraceptives, one motivation was attracting customers who would
stay with their products for years.
Another reason the discounts made business sense was that they didn't
count against the drug makers in a formula calculating rebates they
owed states to participate in Medicaid.
But in its 2005 bill — which went into effect in January — Congress
changed that. Now the discounts to colleges mean drug manufacturers
have to pay more to participate in Medicaid.
The result: Fewer companies are willing to offer discounts.
Many colleges kept prices low for a few months by buying in bulk before
the new law took effect, but have now run through their stockpile and
started increasing prices. Also, many students fill the prescriptions
quarterly so are only now seeing the increase.
Some students said they doubted the price increases would dissuade many
students from buying contraceptives, but said it would be noticed.
"I feel like if an individual's going to seek it, they're going to seek
it and try to find the
resources for it," said Betsy Henke, student body president at Indiana
University. But, she added: "Anything that is an increase in what a
student is paying is going to have some type of impact."
The price hikes will "definitely have an effect on students," said
Lindsay Hicks, a Sexual Health Awareness Peer Educator at Kansas State
University, where she said prices were rising from about $10 to about
$30 per month.
The ACHA contends the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid
Services should have added college health centers to the exemptions
lists and has supported a proposed rule change that would do so. A
spokesman for the agency said it is reviewing that proposal.
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