Birth-control price tough to swallow

Woman holding contraceptives

TEXT OF STORY

Doug Krizner: Here's a surprise: More than two-thirds of all college students say they've had sex in the last year. Many of them have also had access to cut-rate birth control pills through college clinics. It's been a sweet deal for drug companies, too. They've had a direct line to new users.

But a new twist in the law is changing that relationship. Caitlan Carroll reports on what happens when the price of the pill gets too high.


Caitlan Carroll: It's dinnertime, and students from the Claremont colleges file into a wood-paneled dining hall to load up their plates. But first, they face women with clipboards.

Woman with clipboard: Hey, do you want to sign our petition about the rising cost of birth control on college campuses?

These words are echoing across college campuses as prices for birth control pills skyrocket. Some students who were paying $5 or $10 a pack are now paying up to $50.

That can be a lot of money for women like senior Angela Chen:

Angela Chen: For someone else, $40 a month is not that much money. But when you kind of are only relying on your savings, $40 is actually a lot.

Pharmaceutical companies can give what are considered "safety net clinics" drugs at a discount. But college clinics, among others, lost their safety-net status as part of a government spending law that took effect this year.

Director of the American College Health Association, Mary Hoban, wants the discounts back.

Mary Hoban: We're simply asking for the ability for that pharmaceutical company to continue to offer a discount that they've been offering for a number of years.

About 17 years, to be exact.

Congress tightened the safety-net criteria because of concerns that drug companies were using the discounts to market products at big hospitals. When pills were cheap, clinics could easily mark up the price a few dollars and use that money for other services.

Hoban says some clinics now face shortfalls of up to $150,000 a year.

Hoban: These campuses either have to find another source of revenue or cut back on programs and services, or increase the price for those programs and services.

At Pomona College in Claremont, students want school officials to help pay for their prescriptions. Student body president Elspeth Hilton says if they don't, students will go to clinics in poor neighborhoods where the pill is still cheap.

Elspeth Hilton: There are so many communities that are not very wealthy, but they have a very wealthy college within it. And to have those wealthier students taking away the resources at nearby clinics I think has a really big impact on the whole community.

The House and the Senate are considering measures that would give clinics their discounts back. Changes are expected by the end of the year.

In Los Angeles, I'm Caitlan Carroll for Marketplace.

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