Students pay more for birth control

Last year, a package of Ortho Tri-Cyclen Lo birth control cost around $15 at N.C. State University. Now, students have to pay $46 per pack.

At Winthrop University, where prices have risen each of the past five years, generic pills cost $25 while brand names go for $40 or $45 per pack. That's up from $7 in 2003.

At these and many other U.S. colleges and universities, the price of hormonal birth control, such as pill or patch, has more than doubled or tripled in recent months.

The reason: a provision in the federal Deficit Reduction Act of 2005 that makes it hard for colleges to get steep discounts from drug manufacturers on medications like birth control, as they did in the past. Mary Hoban of the American College Health Association said she thinks colleges were unintentionally hurt by the act, which went into effect in January. The group has unsuccessfully tried to get a federal agency to restore the college centers' eligibility for the discounts and now is appealing to lawmakers.

In the Carolinas, the higher prices mostly affect students at schools like UNC Chapel Hill or N.C. State, which don't require medical insurance. Some schools, such as UNC Charlotte, require insurance for full-time students, so students are charged only their health plan's co-pay for birth control.

Also affected are one-fourth of the nation's Planned Parenthood offices, the organization said in July. But Christopher Hollis, a vice president with the Planned Parenthood office covering the Carolinas wouldn't say if any clinics in the states have been impacted by the higher prices.

Use on campus widespread

Colleges have long dispensed various forms of contraceptives at their health clinics to help prevent pregnancies and the spread of sexually-transmitted diseases, with condoms often being offered for free.

In a 2006 American College Health Association survey, about 70 percent of college students reported having at least one sex partner during the past school year. Nearly 40 percent of those surveyed said they or their partner used birth control pills, Depo Provera shots or the Norplant implant. Another 37 percent used condoms.

Many drug companies were willing to offer hormonal birth control to colleges at a discount to help reach new customers. The colleges also benefited, Hoban said, by marking up the price of the drugs and using the profits to pay for other health programs.

College health administrators said they were unaware the discounts were going away until manufacturers alerted them of higher prices in December and the early months of this year.

The biggest jumps have been for products with no generic versions, such as Ortho Tri-Cyclen Lo and NuvaRing.

Will the folks foot the bill?

The higher prices mean students will either have to pay more money, switch to a generic version of their birth control or choose a new method altogether, health educators said.

Students also have started using their parent's insurance, though Hogan and others said some co-eds may be worried about mom or dad finding out they're using birth control.

Winthrop University freshman Katie Burkett wanted to fill her Ortho Tri-Cyclen Lo prescription on campus because she figured prices would be better for students. But the sociology major is buying them elsewhere after her mom learned colleges couldn't offer the discounted prices anymore.

Her mom is paying for the birth control now, but soon Burkett will have to pay the bill. She figures she'll "not eat as much fast food or skimp on other things" to afford her co-pay.

But she said she'll make it work. "I think it would be more of a risk to get off it and chance getting pregnant," she said.