For several decades, college health centers have been a valuable resource for female students seeking inexpensive birth control. Due to special agreements with various pharmaceutical companies, many college clinics were able to provide prescription contraceptives to female students at little to no cost. Typically, this included name brands and varied from the pill to the patch to the increasingly popular NuvaRing.
Unfortunately, this is no longer true of most college clinics. A federal law known as the Deficit Reduction Act of 2005, changed all of this, making it too costly for pharmaceutical companies to offer colleges such large discounts on birth control products. Subsequently, the cost of name brand prescriptions rose from around $3 to $10 per month to anywhere from $30 to $50 per month. While health experts claim that this price increase was unintentional, it has nonetheless had a huge impact on the lives of many budget-conscious female students. This means that a woman who was paying around $48 per year before the law was passed would now pay around $480 a year if she continued to obtain her prescription through a college clinic. Pharmaceutical companies have expressed their regret at having to raise prices for college students, but claim that the new law left them with no other reasonable choice.
This price increase has caused many young women to look into other options for filling their birth control needs. For some students, another option would be to try to obtain coverage under a parent’s insurance plan. However, this presents a problem for many college-aged women, who prefer not to have their parents involved in this aspect of their lives. Unable to afford their own health insurance and already budgeting their income towards tuition and other bills, these women rely heavily on college clinics to provide reasonably priced contraceptives. Generic versions of most name brand contraceptives are typically available at a lower cost, but have been known to have undesirable side effects and can still be a considerable expense for a struggling college student.
The population of female college students affected by these price increases is massive. According to a 2006 survey conducted by the American College Health Association, nearly 40% of female undergrads rely on oral contraceptives for pregnancy prevention or other health reasons. The same survey disclosed that two-thirds of college females reported having at least one sexual partner in the past 12 months.
According to health experts, the most important aspect of effective birth control is the level of comfort a woman has with whichever method she uses. When a woman is forced to switch to something foreign, she may be uncomfortable and may use it incorrectly, leading to more unplanned student pregnancies. Switching from one method to another or from one pill to another can also have unwanted side affects, which might persuade some women to stop using prescription birth control all together.
Many worry that if students can no longer conveniently obtain free or inexpensive birth control through their campus health centers, they might decide to stop utilizing prescription birth control methods at all and rely on less effective options. This ultimately could lead to more unwanted pregnancies among female students.
Companies have also reported an increase in sales of the morning after pill (otherwise known as Plan B), but cannot verify whether or not this phenomenon is a result of the higher price of prescription birth control. While there is no known physical risk involved with taking the morning after pill, women who opt for this method will miss out on the regular annual exams required to obtain regular oral contraceptives. Without this requirement, many young women will not continue regular visits on their own and will be more at risk for a number of health issues, including cervical cancer. At this point in time, many college campuses are still able to over the morning after pill for free or at very low cost, making this option more attractive to students.
The only other options for students who cannot afford the higher prices and are not able to receive coverage through a parent’s insurance plan are state family planning waiver programs and organizations liked Planned Parenthood. These options calculate the cost of prescriptions based on a woman’s income. Many college health centers have been forced to refer their female students to Planned Parenthood. This is not only more inconvenient for students, but it means less income for college health centers, which in turn leads to more price increases for students.
That being said, these options can be great resources for many women and are worth looking into before deciding to quit using prescription birth control methods altogether. Talk to the staff at your campus health center about state-funded family planning waiver programs and look in your local yellow pages or online for a Planned Parenthood near you.