Birth Control Cost on the Rise

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Rising tuition and the soaring cost of textbooks could be concerns of the past. There's a new worry for millions of college students, the rising cost of birth control.

Prices for oral contraceptives, or birth control pills, are doubling and tripling at student health centers, the result of a complex change in the Medicaid rebate law that ends an incentive for drug companies to provide deep discounts to colleges.

"Most students are living on a very tight budget, and so I think it's going to have a terrible affect on the woman's capability to afford her medication," said Dr. Betty Gingold Acker with the Brazos Valley Women's Center.

The change is the result of a chain reaction started by a 2005 deficit-reduction bill that focused on Medicaid, the main federal health insurance program for the poor.

Before the change, pharmaceutical companies typically sold drugs at deep discounts to a range of health care providers, including colleges. With contraceptives, one motivation was attracting customers who would stay with their products for years.

Another reason the discounts made business sense was that they didn't count against the drug makers in a formula calculating rebates they owed states to participate in Medicaid. But in its 2005 bill, which went into effect in January, Congress changed that. Now, the discounts to colleges mean drug manufacturers have to pay more to participate in Medicaid.

The result: fewer companies are willing to offer discounts.

Health officials are now concerned that students will shift to less-preferred contraceptives or stop using them altogether.

"We're very concerned the students won't be able to afford their medications," Acker said.

According to the American College Health Association about 39 percent of undergraduate women use oral contraceptives. Soon, students could see birth control pills double and triple in price.