The Collegian
Thursday, December 08, 2022

Rising birth control prices squeeze college budgets

At university health centers nationwide, the price of prescription birth control has increased significantly during recent months, with some students now paying three or four times as much for birth control as they were last semester.

The price increase is the result of the federal Deficit Reduction Act of 2005, which cut back on numerous government spending programs, including Medicare and Medicaid. The new rules, which came into effect at the beginning of 2007, have forced pharmaceutical companies to stop selling prescription birth control to student health centers at discounted prices.

The legislation has not directly affected the University of Richmond Health Center because it does not have a pharmacist or pharmacy license. The university has never sold prescription medication, and students fill their prescriptions at local pharmacies, such as CVS.

But colleges and universities across the country often sell medication to students at discounted prices, including prescription birth control. Sarah Fisher, resident nurse at the Student Health Center, said transfer students and law students often remark that their birth control costs more here than it did at their previous schools.

If Richmond students are struggling to pay for their birth control, the Student Health Center provides information about numerous discount programs for birth control pills. According to Fisher, the least expensive option is a mail-away plan, available at Web sites such as smartwomanrx.com or drugsforless.com, which offer prescription birth control for as little as $18 per pack and can call the health center for prescription authorization, Fisher said.

The reason these Web sites are able to offer birth control pills at discounted rates is that there are numerous generic alternatives to some brands.

"One example is Levora," Fisher said. "If you buy it at Joe's Market, it's called Portia. If you buy it at Smartwomen, it's called Levlen. But if you look at the dosage of the different hormones, you will see they are the same."

But some birth control pills do not have generic alternatives, which has forced some students to switch to less expensive options, Fisher said. Some of the birth control pills that do not have generic alternatives are Yaz, Yasmin, Ortho Tri-Cyclen Lo and Seasonique.

Another more affordable option is to get prescriptions from a Planned Parenthood Clinic, where prescription birth control methods are usually less expensive than regular pharmacies, Fisher said.

Planned Parenthood and mail-away prescription Web sites are some of the alternatives that students at other schools, who have relied on discounted prescriptions from their student health centers, have been forced to turn to. The new federal rules have affected other colleges and universities in Virginia that do stock prescription birth control at their health centers, including at the College of William and Mary and James Madison University.

Dr. Stephen Rodgers, medical director at the JMU Health Center, said he had seen a sharp jump in the price of prescription birth control methods. Rodgers said that it was hard to determine if this had affected how many students were using prescription birth control.

"We have fewer students coming for those appointments," Rodgers said. "But more students are coming to campus already on oral contraceptives from their family medical doctor."

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William and Mary has also been affected by the new legislation. According to Christine Britton, William and Mary's health center business manager, the price of prescription birth control has been increasing for the past year but the most significant increase occurred this summer.

"We are fortunate enough to be state-contracted, which means we get prescription drugs at lower prices than outside pharmacies," Britton said. "But despite that, there have been jumps in the price of birth control."

According to William and Mary pharmacist Maureen Bounds, brand-name drugs that had previously been available at low prices are no longer available at William and Mary. Bounds said this has specifically affected those students who have been prescribed Ortho Tri-Cyclen Lo and NuvaRing.

Some students are not affected by the increase in cost because their prescriptions are covered by their parents' health insurances or their own health insurances but many do not want their parents to know that they are taking birth control pills, Fisher said. Health insurance coverage of prescription birth control also varies, with some carriers requiring that your primary care physicians write prescriptions.

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