This is the first part of a five-part series promoting Sex Out Loud's annual Sexual Health Week. Throughout history, people have devised and implemented evolving forms of contraceptives, but today, access to some of the most popular forms of hormonal birth control are threatened by legislation dramatically increasing costs to students. One of the most popular and common forms of contraception is hormonal contraception, including the pill, the patch, the ring and the shot. Hormonal birth controls contain synthetically produced estrogen and progestin that mimic the body's natural hormones and work by preventing ovulation. Birth control drugs are some of the most extensively studied drugs, and research has shown hormonal contraception methods to be roughly 98 to 99 percent effective in preventing pregnancy. Hormonal contraceptives also offer additional health benefits, such as decreasing the incidence of ovarian and endometrial cancer, pelvic inflammation, ovarian cysts, benign breast disease and regulating irregular and painful menstrual cycles. Hormonal contraceptives also provide social benefits by giving women greater power and control over their bodies and their reproduction. There are concerns and side effects associated with hormonal birth control methods, however, given ample longitudinal research and the popularity of birth control methods, the health benefits, convenience and effectiveness of hormonal contraceptives outweigh possible disadvantages. Students constitute a financially burdened demographic with high educational expenses and little time to work. Today, birth control is available in several safe, effective and convenient forms to fit most women's lifestyles, and cost is the only remaining barrier for women attempting to obtain birth control. Until recently, college health centers were able to buy contraceptives for minimal prices under legislation allowing drug companies to circumvent Medicaid pricing regulations when selling drugs to charitable organizations like university health services. This legal and subsidy-free arrangement worked to benefit both universities and pharmaceutical companies. Students were offered an extremely valuable service of affordable contraceptives priced around $7 to $8 per month. Universities also profited by selling these cheap drugs to students at a dollar or two more than the purchasing cost. Additionally, drug companies benefited by establishing thousands of lifelong customers by offering extremely low-priced contraceptives to women during their college years. The Federal Deficit Reduction Act (DRA) of 2005, effective as of Jan. 1, 2007, forbids the continuation of this valuable service. The effects of this legislation are grave, and University Health Services prices for several forms of birth control have increased by several hundred percent to prices as high as $35 to $50. This new legislation overburdens already financially strapped students on campus. Students need to be educated and informed citizens who are aware of this legislation and must work to stop and prevent threats to their reproductive rights, including the right to affordable and accessible birth control. Although this new legislation paints a gloomy outlook, students should utilize and promote the many campus resources and organizations committed to continuing to provide students with affordable contraceptives. Several campus organizations, including Sex Out Loud, UHS, the Campus Women's Center and the LGBT Campus Center all offer a variety of free barrier methods including insertive and receptive condoms and dental dams — excellent forms of contraception that significantly reduce the risk of pregnancy and protect against sexually transmitted infections. UHS has also recently stocked its pharmacy with lower-priced generic brands ranging from roughly $15 to $37 for a one-month supply. The Wisconsin Family Planning Waiver Program is an excellent federal Medicaid program that permits women aged 15 to 44 to receive a variety of family planning services, including office visits, contraceptive services and supplies, Pap smears, testing for sexually transmitted infections and annual exams. Most students financially qualify for this free and confidential program, and a simple 30-minute visit to access.wisconsin.gov is all it takes to apply. A membership card is mailed to qualified applicants within 30 days. Taking advantage of a family insurance plan that covers contraception is another option for many students who remain on family insurance plans as students. Awareness and utilization of available campus resources is important, but students must continue to fight dangerous legislation that threatens reproductive rights and health by making birth control unaffordable and inaccessible to students. Several popular and new forms of birth control, including lower-dosed hormonal pills and non-daily birth control methods like the NuvaRing are not yet available in a generic brand. Not all students qualify for the Wisconsin Family Planning Waiver Program. Issues of privacy and confidentiality keep students from using family insurance plans. All of these reasons coupled with the financial struggles of students make fighting legislation such as the DRA necessary to prevent future attacks on access to birth control and to maintain the availability of affordable and accessible birth control methods to students on campus. Ariel Trangle (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a sophomore majoring in history. She is also a Sex Out Loud staff member.
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