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Losing control of campus contraceptive costs

Helen Palmer Mar 23, 2007

KAI RYSSDAL: College kids are usually pretty healthy. They might get the odd injury every now and then, but they typically don’t take many prescription medicines.

Except for birth control. Nearly 40 percent of college-age women are on the pill. But they’ve some sticker shock in the past couple of weeks, as Helen Palmer reports now from the Marketplace Health Desk at WGBH.

HELEN PALMER: Who’s to blame here? The Deficit Reduction Act that clamps down on Medicaid spending growth.

LINDA LASALLE: University health centers were collateral damage as a result of this change that occurred in the Deficit Reduction Act.

Linda LaSalle’s at the sharp end here — she’s head of health education services at Penn State.

The Act tightened up a program for drug companies to supply medications at rock-bottom prices to public clinics and nursing homes. College health services weren’t included, so it would cost drug companies hard cash to give them a price break.

Mary Hoban of the American College Health Association says the effect’s been most dramatic on the pill. For instance, last year, students paid about $5 for a month’s supply.

MARY HOBAN: Now, without that nominal price exemption, the health center would pay closer to $30, $40 and in some cases $50 for that product and would need to pass that cost on to the students.

Of course in many cases, students can switch to cheaper generic products — but even those are likely to be double the price they paid before.

This worries Penn State’s Linda LaSalle. After all, she says, tuition costs are rising steeply for students as it is.

LASALLE: Students may choose to not continue on birth control, which could then result in unintended pregnancies. Which would then interrupt their education.

The College Health Association’s written to the Center for Medicare and Medicaid services asking them to fix this glitch in the Act. Hoban thinks that’ll happen, but not before the summer. So for that long summer break, students will probably face expensive protection.

In Boston, I’m Helen Palmer for Marketplace.

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