Bill proposes cutting costs on contraceptives at colleges

Safe sex might soon get a lot cheaper at universities nationwide. A bill proposed to the House of Representatives last Thursday would dramatically reduce birth control prices on college campuses.

The Prevention Through Affordable Access Act was proposed to the House by Rep. Joseph Crowley (D–N.Y.) in an effort to address the increase in the price of birth control that began in January 2007.

The Deficit Reduction Act (DRA), signed into law by President Bush in 2005, caused the price hikes and set them up to take place two years later.

The DRA prevented the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) from allowing university health services and safety net providers to buy birth control in bulk at discounted prices as they had done before.

“Students that are on the Carnegie Mellon University health insurance plan continue to receive a generous discount for oral contraception at student Health Services,” said Paula Martin, registered dietitian at Health Services and president of the Women’s Association, an organization of women faculty and staff members dedicated to the well-being of female students.

After the DRA went into effect, students paid between $5 and $20 for generic and name-brand contraceptives included in the university health plan.

However, as the university no longer receives discounted rates from CMS, it has had to raise costs for uninsured students to compensate.

Therefore, students without knowledge of their parents’ insurance carriers, or who are hiding oral contraceptives from their parents, have been required to pay about $40 more per month.

“The university has an obligation to provide birth control at a low price to students who must, for some reason, depend on their own limited budgets,” said Janine Dutcher, sophomore psychology major and peer health advisor.

A similar situation has occurred with safety net providers, organizations that deliver a significant level of health care to patients who are uninsured, on Medicaid, or otherwise financially vulnerable. These providers include public school-based clinics, community health clinics, and public hospitals.

Safety-net providers have been especially affected, since the majority of the women they treat are hiding oral contraceptives from their parents, or lack sufficient insurance to cover them.

“CMU is probably not nearly as affected by this [as safety-net providers] because everyone is required to have insurance here, and most insurances cover birth control,” said Dutcher.

Echoing Dutcher’s sentiment, Martin reported minimal change in the number of students receiving birth control from Health Services before and after the DRA, despite the price hike.

However, it is estimated that the DRA has affected an estimated three million college-aged women nationwide with a disproportionate impact on low-income students.

“I can’t believe that there’s such a disparity between the different economic groups and that can just be okay,” said Gabby Moskowitz, sophomore computer science major and executive board member of the CMU College Democrats.

Crowley’s bill, which he deemed the “common sense” initiative, proposes a reversal of the pricing provision of the DRA and a return of the discounts as given before January 2007.

Crowley said the DRA provision was a “bureaucratic mistake” to begin with, according to a Nov. 1 article in The Chronicle of Higher Education.

“This isn’t just a democratic initiative,” said Moskowitz. “It spans all parties and with absolutely no cost to taxpayers, the bill seems more than favorable.”

The bill appears to have bi-partisan support, and is co-authored by two Republicans and two Democrats, as well as 101 co-sponsors of both parties in the House of Representatives.

Planned Parenthood is also a strong advocate of the bill, issuing a press release immediately after its proposal which stated that the organization supported Crowley’s initiative.

“The American College Health Association, of which we are a member school, is providing advocacy on this issue and is keeping members informed of the Capitol Hill response,” said Anita Barkin, director of Health Services.

However, Health Services insists that oral contraceptives are not the only option.

“Condom use is still the easiest and cheapest prevention method,” Martin said. “Condoms are recommended even if a woman is on oral contraception for protection from sexually transmitted infections as well as pregnancy.”

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has started the Healthy People 2010 campaign, a comprehensive set of disease prevention and health promotion objectives for Americans.

One of the campaign’s focus areas is to increase the percentages of college-aged and young adults using both condoms and oral contraceptives.

“Accessibility of oral contraceptives to all women could prove to be key to this initiative and so much more,” Moskowitz said.
The Prevention Through Affordable Action Act is expected to come to a vote in the coming weeks.