Just last semester, a version of the birth control pill Ortho Tri-Cyclen cost a Kansas University student $8 per month. Now it costs $38.
That's one example of how the price of birth control at KU and other colleges nationwide has skyrocketed because of a federal law that curtailed the discounts drug makers can pass on to student clinics.
The prices of brand-name drugs have gone up three-, four- and even sevenfold at KU, leaving student health center workers to recommend generic versions of the drugs to students. A 2004 study by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services found that nearly a third of women ages 20 to 24 were on birth control pills.
"I know that there are a lot of people who aren't very happy about it, and I know a lot of people don't fully understand what happened and why it happened," said KU graduate student Angela Badger, who coordinates peer health education for KU's Student Health Services. "I think it's never a good thing when you restrict someone's access to something like that. It's the equivalent of tripling prices for condoms. You're kind of putting someone at risk of doing something unsafe or unhealthy."
The reason for the change is a provision in the federal Deficit Reduction Act of 2005 that didn't go into effect until this year. In essence, the law changed the formula for how drug prices are calculated under Medicaid and made it financially impractical for drug companies to keep offering deep discounts to student health centers.
"We're having to pay the average wholesale price on everything," said Diana Malott, associate director of KU Student Health Services.
KU senior Briana Brotherson said she found out this month when she went to fill her prescription for the NuvaRing - a relatively new, once-monthly contraceptive - that the price had gone up from about $8 to $42 per month. She switched to a daily pill.
"I don't know that many girls would stop taking birth control, but to possibly switch to something that's less desirable for them, that's still a burden," she said.
Earlier this year the head of the American College Health Association wrote a letter to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services urging it to draft a rule that restores the incentive to offer drug discounts to student health centers.
"Many students simply cannot afford increases in the cost of their contraceptive drugs in the face of sharp increases in the cost of their education," executive director Doyle E. Randol wrote. "In the long run, the high cost of drugs and services and logistical problems will undoubtedly lead to reduced testing and use of contraception and a higher rate of unintended pregnancy, undetected health problems, and untreated gynecological disorders."