College students face a long list of financial burdens, and after the passage of the Deficit Reduction Act of 2005, another burden has been added to the list � birth control. Students must now pay $30 to $50 per month for their oral contraceptives at campus health centers rather than paying the average of $5 to $10 per month they paid before the DRA went into effect in January 2007.
The DRA was intended to reduce Medicaid and Medicare spending, but a provision in this federal law inadvertently ended the Nominal Price Exemption (NPE), which for decades had allowed deeply discounted rates for prescription contraceptives offered at health centers � including those at colleges and universities � across the nation. Legislators assert that the mistake that cut off health centers was accidentally overlooked.
Many campus health care centers compiled stocks of contraceptives at discount rates before the law went into effect in order to continue to offer low prices to students, but now stockpiles have run out. Health centers can no longer afford to provide birth control at low prices, and some brands are so expensive that the centers can no
longer carry them.
This school year, the negative results of the DRA are felt across campus. The sharp price increase of birth control impacts almost 3 million college women who rely on it. Some students have switched to cheaper brands that may be less effective or have more side effects. Other students simply cannot afford their birth control prescriptions anymore and have stopped using oral contraceptives altogether or switched to Plan B (the morning after pill).
University clinics have seen a drop in the sales of these expensive contraceptives. As more students decide not to purchase expensive contraceptives, the rate of unintended pregnancies may rise as some students switch to less reliable methods of birth control. Also, as fewer students seek to refill their prescription, fewer students will feel the need to receive regular gynecological exams which screen for sexually transmitted diseases and offer the HPV vaccine.
The American College Health Association (ACHA) has been advocating for provisions to the DRA that would ease the harsh effects on the price of birth control for students. The ACHA has urged the Center for Medicaid and Medicare Services (CMS) to extend eligibility for NPE to college and university health centers. This would counter the vast increase in birth control prices. Unfortunately, this past summer, the CMS decided against any change in this provision because they believe the NPE eligibility list is already sufficient.
Now it is only left to Congress to act in order to counter this unnecessary and inadvertent negative effect of the DRA. A recently proposed bill � the Prevention Through Affordable Access Act � will do just that. According to the American Association of University Women (AAUW), this bill will �restore and protect access to discount drug prices for university-based and safety-net clinics.� The bill was proposed by U.S. Rep. Joseph Crowley, D-N.Y., in November and is receiving bipartisan support, as well as backing from the AAUW and Planned Parenthood.
U.S. Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., commented on the bill in a Planned Parenthood press release: �No woman should be turned away from university clinics and health centers because the cost of prescription drugs is out of reach. Access to contraceptives is essential to lowering the rate of unintended pregnancies in this country, and we need to make sure these drugs are affordable and accessible.�
This may be the last opportunity to correct this error in the DRA. We, as students, should contact our congressional representatives to urge them to support this bill in order to counteract these recent price hikes.
Marissa Rubin (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a sophomore majoring in journalism and political science.