The cost of oral contraceptive pills at Gannett Pharmacy, which formerly ranged in price from $12 to $150 per month, now ranges from $25 to $150 as a result of the Federal Deficit Reduction Act. The Act has disabled many university health care providers from purchasing drugs at “safety net” provider prices, which are 10 percent of the average cost or less.
“Thankfully, we have not seen an impact on the number of students who come to us for birth control,” said Sharon Dittman, associate director of community relations for Gannett.“But for some students, pricing is not their priority. We try to talk to students about their priorities when it comes to birth control and accommodate them as best we can.”
Most generic pills are in the $25 range, whereas name brand pills cost between $35 and $55. The Ortho Evra Patch and the Nuvaring both retail for $55, but in 2006 they cost students $20 and $12, respectively.
“Most of the pricing remains the same,” said a Gannett pharmacist who wished to remain anonymous. “However, we were previously able to purchase less expensive alternatives, which we can no longer offer.”
In 2003 and 2004, Gannett also experienced price increases in brand name oral contraceptives. However, this is the first time that generic prescriptions have been affected as well. Before the changes went into effect, Gannett purchased many pills so students could purchase birth control at discounted rates.
“Birth control is almost unbearably expensive for a college student,” said Erin Himes ’10. “Spending something in the range of $300 a year for birth control is just not feasible for most students.”
Students can also use their health insurance to subsidize costs for oral contraceptives. Students enrolled in the Student Health Insurance Plan are covered and pay co-payments costing between $10 and $25 a month. Private health insurance can pose problems for students who prefer to not inform their parents about their decision to take birth control.
“We are very fortunate in our community that we have such a high rate of people who have health insurance coverage,” said Dittman. “These students are not feeling the impact as much, because the co-payments are staying the same. That said, there are people whose co-payments get reported to their parents, so they don’t want a co-payment for hormonal birth control going home. We think in most of those cases, the people who have financial difficulties have been talking to our clinicians about exploring other options.”
For students who can not otherwise manage the cost of their birth control, the Planned Parenthood clinic in Ithaca offers hormonal birth control at discounted rates.
“It is nice to know that Planned Parenthood is an option,” said Nora Tickell ’10. “However, it is a difficult option for most students when you consider transportation and time relative to a trip to Gannett.”
The CORE Alcohol and Drug survey administered to Cornell students in Fall 2005 stated that 51.2 percent of the students who responded reported engaging in sexual intercourse within the past year. A survey by the American College Health Association reported that in 2006, approximately 38 percent of female undergraduate students used oral contraceptives. The survey did not delineate whether students took these pills for contraceptive purposes.
The American College Health Association has been campaigning for university health centers to be exempt from the Federal Deficit Reduction Act, which has been in effect since 2006. The Congressional Quarterly reported that a provision to do this was added to the Iraq Supplemental Bill in March. However, this provision was removed due to complaints from lobbyists and Congressmen.
“We remain hopeful,” said Dittman. “It seems that the effect on college students may have been an unintended consequence, which suggests that it could be restored. Many of our colleagues in college health have joined us in trying to make the case that this has an impact on students that is greater than anyone could have intended.”