New law increases price college campuses pay for birth control pills

Boynton Health Service stocked up on Ortho Tri-Cyclen Lo before the law went into effect.

Devin Henry

Condoms might be free through the University, but the cost of some other contraceptives it offers is increasing.

Because of a federal law enacted in January, drug companies won’t be able to sell prescription birth control pills to colleges at discounted rates. Before, college health centers could charge patients those reduced rates but still make a profit.

Steve Cain, pharmacy director for Boynton Health Service, said Boynton and many other college health centers went to drug manufacturers before the law took effect and attempted to order birth control pills in bulk so it could continue passing lower rates to students.

In Boynton’s case, only one company was willing to take part in the deal, he said, giving the University a bulk supply of Ortho Tri-Cyclen Lo.

“We went ahead and ordered enough to last through the expiration date,” he said.

While Ortho Tri-Cyclen Lo is still on sale for a reduced rate through Boynton, other birth control pills are not, Cain said.

For example, the cost of a prescription for the Desogen birth control pill has increased by $10 a month.

“Our clinic is very mindful of cost to patients,” he said. “It’s affected us somewhat but fortunately Ortho came through. Otherwise, we would have been in a difficult situation.”

A Boynton survey found among 14 Minnesota colleges, 50.8 percent of sexually active students use birth control pills, more than any other form of birth control.

University master’s student Rachel Henderson said she gets birth control pills through Boynton, but since she uses Ortho Tri-Cyclen Lo, she still gets it for $16 a month.

Even though she was unaware of the new law, Henderson said she thinks providing health care for reduced rates on campus is a good idea.

“It’s easier for college students to go through the University to get it,” she said. “I believe there’s still family planning places where they can possibly get it lower, but I just think having it on campus makes it a lot more available.”

Roberta Gibbons, the associate director for the Aurora Center for Advocacy and Education, said raising birth control prices would have the same effect higher prices for cigarettes has on smoking – it lowers the demand for the product.

“Your basic econ 101 is going to tell you that as prices increase, the demand is going to decrease,” she said. “I fear increased price and the doubling of prices of birth control will decrease the number of people who use it.”

University graduate student MaryAnne Bedtke said the increasing costs of birth control have no effect on her, as she objects to the use of birth control.

“I think that people should be educated about sex,” she said, “but in order to be adequately educated about it, they need to be informed and well-informed of their option of abstinence, which is the best birth control out there.”

The law only applies to people who pay cash for birth control, Cain said. Insurance companies, even those for students, cover the costs for subscribers.

Journalism junior Katie Gaul said after moving to the Twin Cities for school, she began getting her birth control pills from Boynton. Gaul said she uses a generic brand because it’s cheaper than other kinds.

“If I get anything more than that, it’s more than $25 a month and I don’t want to spend that much,” she said.

Cain said even when Boynton was offering birth control for reduced rates, it was making a “modest” profit.

“We were making a little money for the health service and giving the patients a fair price,” he said, “a price they were very pleased with.”

Cain said he believed the provision came about because of the unwillingness of drug companies to provide the reduced rate to government programs.

“The government stipulated that, if you’re giving these products to Planned Parenthood and student health services, you better be willing to give them to us,” he said. “The drug companies said ‘no, we don’t want to. We’ll just do away with it, at the expense of patients.’ “

Gaul said she thinks birth control should still be cheaper for students.

“College students are going to have sex, and they give out condoms freely in the dorms, so they might as well have access to birth control as well,” she said.