Monday, August 13, 2007

Reducing The Deficit, One Birth Control Pill At A Time

President Bush signed The Deficit Reduction Act Of 2005 because, according to the White House, [t]his legislation restrains Federal spending and leaves more money in the hands of the American people.

Judging by the effects of this federal law, which went into effect in January, it appears female collage students of reproductive age are neither American, nor people.

Not only doesn't the Deficit Reduction Act of 2005 leave more money in their hands, it actually manages to significantly increase their health expenses:

For decades college campus health centers have been a resource for budget-conscious female students seeking birth control. Because of agreements with pharmaceutical companies, most campus clinics were able to distribute brand name prescription contraceptives, from pills to the patch to a monthly vaginal device like NuvaRing, for no more than a couple of bucks.

That all ended earlier this year. Health experts say the price bump for college students was inadvertent — a byproduct of the Deficit Reduction Act of 2005, a federal law that went into effect in January. The law alters how drug makers calculate Medicaid-related rebates paid to states, but it ultimately made it expensive for companies to offer schools such deep discounts on birth control. As a result, brand name prescription prices for campus clinics rose from about the $3 to $10 range per month to the $30 to $50 range.

Ah, the joys of being a member of Congress! You get to enact legislation affecting people's lives and health but you're not expected to actually, you know, understand the law or its effects or, dare I even mention it, be responsible for the consequences.

The good news is that now we all, patients and politicians, together in perfect harmony, have something to look forward to like, for example, increase use of less effective birth control methods and more unintended pregnancies:

A 2006 survey conducted by the American College Health Association (ACHA) found that 39% of undergraduate women use oral contraceptives. Many providers are afraid that if the convenience of free or cheap birth control on campus is taken away, female students might just get turned off by prescription birth control methods altogether and use other less effective ones like condoms or Plan B, known as the morning after pill. Even switching to generic medications, most say, while better than nothing, isn't ideal because of the side effects that sometimes come along with them. "We do know that high fees act as a barrier to obtaining care. That is classically understood in campus health services," says Claudia Covello, director at the University of California-Berkeley's health center.

Prescription birth control — which includes the pill, the patch and NuvaRing — is 99.7% effective, according to Planned Parenthood, and many worry if students skip out on it or move to a method they're not as comfortable with, it can lead to more unwanted student pregnancies. "I think there are some who will just try to wing it and see how it goes. They'll say 'Well I go to school here, my boyfriend is in another city and I only see him once or twice a month and I won't use anything' rather than pay for something they can't afford. That's absolutely dangerous," says Dr. Nancy Jasper, an assistant clinical professor at Columbia University's medical school.

And speaking of less effective methods, note the following inaccuracy in the article:

Health officials say they discourage using Plan B as a regular form of contraception because, although there's no physical risk to doing so, students will be missing out on the menstrual cycle regulation and the required annual exams that come along with a regular oral contraceptive prescription.

The main reason you shouldn't use Plan B as your regular method of birth control is because Plan B is far less effective. Bleeding irregularities and missing annual exams are secondary considerations.

Last, but not least, I think asking the very people who were incompetent enough to enact this detrimental law in the first place for help is misguided and counterproductive:

AHCA, a college health advocacy organization, says that since it became aware of the Deficit Reduction Act they have been doing everything they can to fight for an exemption in the law for college health centers. The group's advocacy chair Mary Hoban says that while she's pretty sure the impact on college students was unintentional, their only recourse for the time being is a legislative fix from Congress. "We are contacting members in Congress to make sure they understand what the impact of the Deficit Reduction Act has on their campuses and asking for their help when they see an opportunity to legislate a solution to this," she says. But so far she says she hasn't had much luck.

Bottom line: If you're a college student on a budget, know this: Every time you ingest a Pill the Federal deficit shrinks.

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At 7:21 PM, Blogger Cara said...

This happened last year on my campus. I was on Nuva Ring and it went from $8 for 3 rings to $60 for 3 rings. On my sister's campus it went to $30 a ring! That's crazy for a college student for afford! Obviously more affordable than a baby, but clearly not going to help.

At 7:42 PM, Blogger ema said...


Absolutely. Even with a scholarship and part-time job an extra $20 or more per month is a significant expense for a college student.


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