Birth control cost jumps after act slashes funding

Students attempting to practice safe sex may now face bigger roadblocks than just the long walk to Walgreens.

Yale University Health Services increased the price of oral contraception last week, following the implementation of the Federal Deficit Reduction Act of 2005, which forced the University to stop subsidizing the Pill.

Students insured by the University’s Prescription Plus health plan will begin feeling the effects of the price hike immediately, since YUHS used up the last of its subsidized birth control last week.

The federal act, which was signed by President George W. Bush ’68 in February, makes it financially imprudent for pharmaceuticals to continue offering birth control at low prices to college health services. Pharmaceutical companies previously sold the birth control to college clinics at discounted rates in exchange for a number of financial incentives, but with the new legislation, companies are no longer willing to offer these discounts, officials said. YUHS associate director Peter Steere said the law’s widespread effect on prescription drugs prices is significant, but was unintended by lawmakers.

“The issue is that there are a number of manufacturers who offered what might be clinic pricing to various kinds of organizations,” Steere said. “We happened to be one of them, and that pricing was taken away. There are generics, and they help relieve the cost to a certain extent, but even the generic pricing doesn’t typically come close to what these old clinic prices used to be.”

Steere said three months’ worth of an oral contraceptive through YUHS once cost $12-14 dollars — an amount that will no longer cover even a month’s supply of the Pill.

Under the new legislation, patients who choose to remain on the same brand-name birth control may pay up to $50 per month and those who switch to an alternative pay around $25, he said.

Like many other college health services across the nation, Steere said Yale stocked up on birth control pills at the former lower price before the spike in cost.

“When we heard that our pricing was going to make a drastic change, we stocked up as much as we could,” he said. “Only this last week we ran out, and we’re glad we could make it last as long as it did.”

Yale students have taken action to reverse the federal law and bring back the lower birth control prices.

Sara Rahman ’09, helped organize a rally in Beinecke Plaza last Thursday to raise awareness about the increase in birth control prices. Rahman said about 50 Yalies at the rally called the offices of Sens. Dodd and DeLauro to push for a change in policy.

“We had a very positive reception, and because it’s such an immediate issue for college students in particular, that’s why it was a big deal,” Rahman said. “A lot of students were angered by the fact that it targets people socioeconomically, and it was good to stress that point.”

Jessica Hunter ’10, who also helped organize the event, said the problem should be easy to change since the government did not purposefully intend to cause the price increase.

Pharmaceutical companies are not arbitrarily raising prices, she said, but are forced to do so by the effects of the Deficit Reduction Act.

“You can’t ask someone to make decisions about their sexual health based on finances,” she said. “It’s going to force people to have to make really hard decisions: if they can’t afford it, what do they do? Do they use a less reliable method? Do they not use it at all?”

Steere said he approves of the effort directed at reversing the legislation, but is not optimistic about the possibility for actual change.

But from the hospital standpoint, Steere said the overall impact on prescription drugs in general has not been as dramatic as many predicted.

“As far as prescription drugs go, it’s not as terrible as we thought it might be,” he said.

Last year, YUHS announced it would start stocking new generic versions of brand-name birth control to help alleviate costs, a decision timed to help counteract the effects of the Federal Deficit Reduction Act.

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