March 30, 2009

Bill Encourages Lower Prices for Contraceptives

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The nation’s president has been a staunch proponent of contraceptive use, recently signing an appropriations bill calling for pharmaceutical companies to supply discounted contraceptives to college health clinics, Planned Parenthood offices and family-planning centers throughout the country.
“The recent passing of the affordable birth control legislation is a victory for millions of college students who have struggled to afford the rising costs of basic contraception in these difficult economic times,” stated Robin Gaige, director of public affairs for Planned Parenthood of the Southern Finger Lakes, in an e-mail.
The passage of the bill may also help to reduce the high numbers of unplanned pregnancies seen in the U.S.
“The rates of unplanned pregnancies and abortion in the U.S. are much higher than most other industrialized countries. … The idea is that by decreasing the cost of birth control, the number of unplanned pregnancies will go down and the government can save on spending on a whole host of areas, including welfare and healthcare,” Zoe Belkin, president of the Student Health Awareness Group, stated in an e-mail.
According to the New York Times, the bill, which is not a subsidy and will not be funded by taxpayers, restores a limited Medicaid exemption that provided contraception discount. This discount, which was in effect for nearly 20 years, struggled against Republican opposition and was eliminated by the 2005 Deficit Reduction Act. As a result, the prices of brand-name contraceptives on some campuses jumped from $5 to $40 or $50 per month.
Moreover, according to U.S. News & World Report, these higher prices even made some colleges, such as Bowdoin College, stop offering hormonal contraceptives due to a lack of funding in order to maintain the inventory.
“Watching college students, as well as low-income, uninsured, and under-insured women struggle with the cost of birth control has been heartbreaking. College students, who already deal with increased costs in tuition, books, and general cost of living, were having to deal with birth control up to 10 times more expensive than it used to be,” Gaige stated.
However, the removal of the discount program did not seem to have a huge impact on Cornell’s student body. According to Dr. Alex Hall, Gannett Health Services, the client-pricing discount made it so that students could get certain types of brand-name contraceptives for $12 per pack. However, most health insurance copayments are only $10. Since all Cornell students are required to have some sort of health insurance, the former removal and current reinstatement of the bill will not significantly affect Cornell’s student body.
The main population that is affected by this bill is uninsured women who pay for birth control out of pocket.
“I think it is very important that [this bill] passed because there are thousands and millions of women who don’t have health insurance. The fact that they have access to low cost contraception is imperative,” Hall said.
According to the Guttmacher Institute — a nonprofit organization focused on sexual and reproductive health research, policy analysis and public education — four in 10 women that are of reproductive age in the United States had no insurance coverage as of 2006. Moreover, 17.5 million of the 36.2 million women in need of contraceptive care were in need of publically funded services or supplies due to low income or age.
While the bill is a step towards affordable birth control, it does not force pharmaceutical companies to reinstate the discounts. Moreover, with the economy as it is and with health insurance’s coverage of contraceptives, some are skeptical about the implementation of the discounts.
“The bill makes it possible for pharmaceutical companies to reinstate the discounts but it doesn’t demand that they do that. So right now, there has been no change,” said Nina Cummings, Gannett Health Promotion.
While the overall goal of the provision is to allow college-age and low-income women to afford birth control, the legislation has political implications as well.
“It made a political statement by our president reinstating [the bill]. How that will play out in reality though is probably not as significant as people think,” Cummings said.
This bill is important for woman’s rights, according to Gaige.
“Planned Parenthood applauds Congress and President Obama for standing up for women’s health. We are proud to be a voice for millions of women who need access to affordable reproductive healthcare,” Gaige stated.