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Birth control prices inflate

Students and health professionals across the country were taken aback by the recent swell in birth control prices at college health centers. Part of the reason for the sticker shock is that almost nobody saw it coming.

The price increase came as a result of the Deficit Reduction Act of 2005 (DRA), spending cuts that the Republican congress passed to make up for the federal government’s empty change purse. The legislation made dramatic changes to reduce government payments through an array of programs, including Medicare, Medicaid, and numerous federal higher education programs. The impact on birth control prices at college health centers is a side effect of a law, which is unlikely to save the government any money.

College women, on the other hand, are left to take the hit. With prices on certain birth control medications surging by more than 400 percent, many women will be forced to pay the difference, switch to a generic oral contraceptive that will still be more expensive, or use a non-prescription contraceptive. Many students are already on tight budgets, and the new pricing would mean nearly an extra $150 per year even for those who switch to generic medications. Whether or not the price increases will result in students practicing unsafe sex is impossible to predict, but easy to imagine.

At Carnegie Mellon, about 800 women purchase birth control at Health Services, so the local impact of this change is significant.

According to the American College Health Association (ACHA), some health centers used the revenues from the sales of the deeply discounted contraceptives to fund health promotion programs and sexual health education programs, including education concerning the health risks of AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases, free or low-cost PAP, STD, and HIV testing services, and free condoms. At other health centers, the discounts made it possible for women under severe financial constraints to receive the contraceptives at no cost whatsoever. Now, those programs will lose that funding source, causing people to miss out on these vitally important programs.

What makes the change seem more unjust is that the DRA is a solution to budget shortfalls largely resulting from President Bush’s tax cuts, which disproportionately benefited America’s wealthiest individuals, and the exceedingly expensive war in Iraq.

Fortunately, there is a chance that the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) may alter the implementation of the DRA to enable college health centers to get the discounts they received previously. The ACHA is lobbying the CMS to do just that.

The impact of the DRA on the health of students is significant, and Congress or the CMS should take quick action to reverse the problem.

Until that happens, though, boyfriends on campus should step up to the plate and split the increased cost of the birth control from which they clearly benefit.