Battling the Birth Control Price Hike

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Battling the Birth Control Price Hike

Rep. Carolyn Maloney

The Deficit Reduction Act made it costly for pharmaceutical companies to offer deep discounts on birth control to college health centers, but DHHS Secretary Mike Leavitt could easily close this loophole.

It may sound absurd, but the Deficit Reduction Act that Congress passed back in 2005 is now causing birth control prices to spike at college health centers and free clinics, or so-called "safety net providers." College and low-income women are being forced to bear the brunt of this unfair price hike.

By some estimates, brand name prescription birth control prices have risen from about $3 to $10 a month to $30 to $50 a month. That's a steep increase for college women juggling hefty tuition bills, or for a working woman struggling to make ends meet with a minimum wage job.

For decades, college health centers and free clinics have helped cash-strapped women access affordable birth control. Through agreements with pharmaceutical companies, most campus clinics were able to distribute brand name prescription contraceptives for just a few dollars a month.

It's particularly important that college women have access to affordable contraception. Two-thirds of college students reported having at least one sexual partner in the prior 12 months, according to a 2006 survey of more than 23,000 students by the American College Health Association. About 40 percent of sexually active college women reported relying on pills and other prescription forms of birth control, according to the ACHA.

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The plain truth is that women are more likely to use contraceptives responsibly if they can get what they need cheaply and conveniently. If we make it difficult for young women to get it, they might stop using it at all. Or, they may turn to cheaper, less effective birth control methods. I wouldn't be surprised if we saw a spike in the number of unwanted pregnancies and number of abortions as a result of this unfair price hike.

So, how exactly did this happen? The Deficit Reduction Act (DRA) altered how drug makers calculate rebates to safety net health providers. The federal government helps to underwrite some of these rebates in order to improve access to prescription drugs for people on low or fixed incomes. The DRA, however, made it costly for pharmaceutical companies to continue offering safety net providers such deep discounts on birth control and a number of other prescription drugs.

In some cases, private insurance will cover this cost increase of birth control. But many young women are on their parents' insurance plans and don't want to involve their moms and dads in such a private health matter. And, unfortunately, a lot of hardworking women who are struggling to make ends meet count themselves among the 47 million Americans without health insurance.

I am working with my pro-choice colleagues in Congress to close this ridiculous loophole and bring down the cost of prescription birth control at college health centers and free clinics. In fact, Secretary of Health and Human Services Mike Leavitt could easily close this unfair loophole and restore access to affordable birth control for millions of women. Yesterday, Congresswoman Nita Lowey (D-NY) and I wrote a letter urging him to do just that (to read the full text of our letter, click here). Congressman Joseph Crowley (D-NY) is also working on legislation that would bring costs down.

In November 2006, Americans put the House and Senate back into pro-choice hands for the first time in 12 years. Anti-choice politicians used these years to attack reproductive freedom at every opportunity. By stark contrast, in just its first 100 days, the 110th Congress has blocked legislative assaults on reproductive freedom and made early first steps toward a more positive agenda that emphasizes common sense solutions over divisive politics. And we'll continue working hard to repair the mistakes of the past and ensuring that women's reproductive rights are protected in the future.