Rising Birth Control Costs Hit UT

As if the increase in tuition and room and board isn’t enough to worry about, female students will soon be faced with another price increase – the price of birth control.

The rise in cost is due to a change in a Medicaid rebate law that took place in 2005 and became enforced the following January. Birth control pills were cheaper for students before because of a federal health insurance program that enabled pharmaceutical companies to sell their drugs at a discounted price.

The new law is designed so that the companies have to pay more to participate in Medicaid’s program, which has caused a vast number of the companies to pull out. Although many colleges were aware of this issue, few believed that it would affect them.

“The companies that we have been working with use less expensive pills but have been bought out by the larger companies,” said Melissa Bailey, UT nurse practitioner. “We have three … contraceptive[s] … that we use – the Vaginal Ring and the Progesterone Shot being two of them – and prices have gone up so high for this, that [we] won’t be able to carry them anymore. Our clinical person ordered the maximum that we could at the old price last year, and we made the students that use it more aware of the upcoming situation.”

UT is actively searching for different companies who are able to offer them a better deal. But like many other schools, they are finding out there aren’t too many options. Turning to generic brands doesn’t provide much hope since they often cost just as much or, in some cases, even more than the name brands.

“I purchase birth control through my parents’ insurance,” said Jessica Johnson, UT senior.

Johnson has purchased the brand Ortho-Tricyclen for the past three years and has not noticed an increase of price yet.

“I have never purchased through any health center providers. I use Walgreens, and it’s always $10 a month.”

However, Johnson is one of a lucky few.

UT sophomore Carrie Collins isn’t so fortunate.

“My insurance is aware that I am taking it, but it doesn’t cover it; I wish it did. I have to purchase the birth control on my own, with my own cash, for $40 a month,” said Collins. “I’ve been purchasing it for three years from the Sweet Bay Pharmacy.”

The cost for students who are currently purchasing their birth control on campus is roughly $10, but the price is anticipated to increase to as much as $30.

“If someone has outside insurance that is a student here and we have a current pap smear-that’s not over a year old, then once we get a copy of it, [we] will write them a prescription of what they have been on before as long as it’s safe,” said Bailey.

Planned Parenthood, located on 56 Street between Hillsborough and Bush, provides an alternative for students in the price of birth control increase.

“Our pills are discounted half of what people pay now,” said Nikki Slater, Planned Parenthood clinic assistant.

For example, Ortho-Tricyclen through them is $20 a pack, which is a month supply. The same brand and supply amount through Wal-Mart is $44.99. Through Target it is $46.72, and through Walgreens it is $54.99.

“We don’t take insurance . Everything is cash. We do, however, take MasterCard and Visa,” said Slater. “There is a $35 transfer fee for women to transfer their last annual exam to us. Then, once that is approved, we set up an appointment where we check their weight and blood pressure before assigning them the proper pills.”

Outside of the other options available to students, some health officials are worried that students will turn to less effective methods of birth control. According to a study done by the American College Health Association, there are nearly 40 percent of women in college who use the pill.

“I think it’s a legitimate fear that students will look for other less expensive choices or perhaps even move onto other methods,” said Sharon Schaefer, clinical director at UT Health Center. “It’s also a … need for most women.”

Young women use birth control for other reasons as well.

“There are women that use it for painful periods [and] regulation of periods. Smaller athletes also commonly will use it so they don’t miss their period,” said Schaefer.

UT students can go to the health center and receive a gynecological examination that includes a pap smear, Chlamydia culture, urinalysis and a complete blood count (CBC) for $70.

Birth control pill options can be discussed with a nurse practitioner during an appointment.

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