Rising birth control costs hurt students

What would you do if your daily cup of coffee suddenly went from $2 to $10? Since Jan. 1, college students, particularly women, have been directly effected by the Deficit Reduction Act (DRA), which makes it impossible for university health centers, some Planned Parenthood affiliates and safety net clinics to purchase contraceptives at discounted prices.

The implementation of the DRA has caused the price of birth control pills at universities and health centers across the country to double and triple, making it difficult for many women to afford their birth control. The Planned Parenthood Web site states that, "The cost of birth control in many clinics is rising to almost 900 percent what it was just months ago."

Even SOU has begun to see a significant change in birth control prices. "NuvaRings are a very popular method of birth control for students on campus," said Diane Potratz, director of the Student Health and Wellness Center at SOU. "When we had access to reduced purchasing, they were $5 or less, now we are having to pay $40 per unit, which is what we have to charge students who are not eligible for FPEP."

FPEP (Family Planning Expansion Project) is a federal program that provides free family planning services, birth control and reproductive health care to men and women, though it too is being affected by the DRA.

One consequence of the skyrocketing birth control prices could be a rise in unintended pregnancies, a major cause of college dropouts. Others predict that women may be unmotivated to get their yearly prescription renewed because of the cost, leading to fewer women stopping into health centers for annual gynecological exams. This means that some women may not be getting screened for sexually transmitted diseases or being offered the new HPV vaccine, which can prevent cervical cancer.

"I didn't know anything about it," said Annie Walsh, a junior at SOU. More people, especially college students, need to become aware of this situation as it could have profound effects on them in the future.

When asked about the rising prices for students at SOU, Leah Montgomery, field organizer for Planned Parenthood of Southwestern Oregon, responded, "At this point, many students have not yet had to endure these costs, but we don't know for how long that could hold. We believe birth control is basic health care for everyone and we wish to see this issue resolved as quickly as possible."

Montgomery works closely with the SOU campus group VOX: Students for Choice, who have been tabling, talking with students and trying to collect signatures on a card intended for Senators Gordon Smith and Ron Wyden to see that this issue be resolved immediately.

"We recently held an action day where we were able to collect over 300 signatures to give to the senators," said Angela Lemire, VOX President and staff member for the campus Women's Resource Center.

"While many SOU students haven't been affected yet, other students have. VOX is really trying to gain student awareness, letting them know that this is a relevant issue. Not often do you see birth control triple in price," said Montgomery about SOU student action. The University of Oregon as well as Reed College in Portland have already seen an impact.

In a 2006 study, 39 percent of undergraduate women said they relied on oral contraceptives to prevent pregnancy, said Mary Hoban of the American College Health Association.

"There is legislation out there now called the Prevention Through Affordable Access Act, sitting in the finance committee that would reinstate our ability to purchase reduced-cost pharmaceuticals for university-based health centers and safety net clinics. Both Senator Smith and Wyden are on this comity," said Potratz.

Tara Crist, a junior from Sedona, Ariz., seemed rather surprised about this issue. "I feel very strongly about birth control and the rising costs," she said. "I believe in the youth having accessible and affordable birth control because it is something that protects us."

At this point, some students are being encouraged to seek out cheaper alternatives like generic oral contraceptives, though many brands of pills, as well as the vaginal insert NuvaRing and the patch, still have no generic equivalent, and due to some side effects like nausea, headaches or frequent spotting, some women may need to stay on a particular brand.

It may take community action in order to fix this issue. Our college students should never have to choose: birth control or groceries?

For more information, please contact Planned Parenthood at 482-8700 or SOU's Women's Resource Center at 552-6216

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