Students not affected by increasing price of birth control

The rising cost of brand-name birth control on college campuses nationwide has had no noticeable effect on the amount of prescriptions being filled at TCU, the chief pharmacist of the Health Center Pharmacy said.

A new federal law that went into effect last year inadvertently cut college health centers from the list of approved organizations to receive discounts on brand-name birth control pills such as Ortho Tri-Cyclen and the Ortho-Evra Contraceptive Transdermal Patch, said Frank Calhoon, owner and pharmacist in-charge at the Health Center. The Health Center did not feel the effects of the price increase until its supply ran out in late November.

“We were able to stockpile at a cheaper rate,” Calhoon said. “When we ran out, like every other college campus, we had to buy at regular rate, and that’s when it skyrocketed.”

The Deficit Reduction Act of 2005 was intended to cut $40 billion from federal spending over five years, according to a White House press release.

After the law went into effect, brand-name birth control, which the pharmacy sold before for $20 to $25, nearly doubled in price. Tri-Cyclen Lo and Ortho-Evra currently sell for more than $50 at the pharmacy, said Melanie Tenius, a pharmacy technician.

Many students said they were unaware of such a change in prices, but said the rising costs were unfair for students when they have to worry about other expenses. Some, such as sophomore speech pathology majors Kathleen Perley and Christine Carney, said they never noticed because they received their birth control by mail order.

Sens. Barack Obama, D-Ill., and Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., and Rep. Joseph Crowley, D-N.Y., have attempted to pass legislation that would place college health centers back on the list of organizations that can receive discounts on brand-name birth control. The bills have bipartisan support but have taken a backseat to other legislative priorities.

JoHannah Hamilton, a graduate in anthropology and women’s studies, said the TCU Women’s Network, a student advocacy group she coordinated, worked with Planned Parenthood on a national campaign to petition Congress to pass such legislation.

“I think it’s important mostly because (the cost increase) was an accident,” Hamilton said. “It’s a low-cost fix. It’s dangerous on college campuses not to have easy access to birth control.”

Hamilton said students who do not have access to affordable birth control might resort to less reliable methods. Women also take the pill for health reasons, such as managing irregular menstrual cycles, Hamilton said.

Though Calhoon could not give a figure of how many TCU students have been getting the pill from the clinic, 257 new prescriptions were filled in 2007, he said. This was down from 344 new prescriptions in 2005, but Calhoon said there were other variables involved. The pharmacy was closed for a month and a half, and some women switched over to the generic version of the brands, which saved $20 to $30.

Despite rising prices, Calhoon said, he expected few students to fill their prescriptions off-campus because local pharmacies such as Walgreens and CVS have been selling birth control at high prices all along.

He said the TCU pharmacy still offers many advantages such as convenience, the ability to put medication on send-home and the acceptance of major insurance companies.

The McClatchy-Tribune News Service contributed to this story.