Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire


Deficit reduction act raises birth control prices, limits campus availability

Cora Davidson, Public Affairs Field Organizer for the Walla Walla Planned Parenthood, met with students at 6:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Oct. 23 at Verve Coffeehouse to discuss the recent Deficit Reduction Act (DRA). As a result of the DRA, enacted by Congress in January 2007, birth control prices at universities and health centers across the nation have doubled, tripled or worse.

For over 20 years, pharmaceutical companies have been allowed to provide birth control pills at very low cost to certain health care clinics, including campus health centers.

“It was a win-win situation,” said Ellen Collette, director of the Welty Health Center. “University health centers with on-site full pharmacies could buy birth control pills for around 25 ¢ and then make a small profit by selling them to students for $1. It was very inexpensive for students to buy birth control, which would ultimately benefit the pharmaceutical companies when they continued to buy products. Of course, prices gradually increased over the ensuing years, but they were still discounted a significant amount.”

Under the DRA, pharmacy reimbursements from the government have been limited, making pharmaceutical companies unwilling to offer reduced prices for their products. Also, due to an accidental rewording of the Act, student health centers and family planning clinics have been excluded from receiving discounts for several prescription drugs, including birth control.

“It was a mistake that should’ve been easily fixed,” said Davidson. “It was literally one clause in pages and pages of legislation, and it just got overlooked. That accident has now made birth control unaffordable for millions of women across the country.”

Changing the Act to include these institutions would have no financial cost to Congress or the American public. However, some government officials, such as Republican Sen. Mike Enzi from Wyoming, are now refusing to change the DRA, citing objections to abortion.

“The DRA has nothing to do with abortion,” said Davidson. “It’s simply an issue of supplying affordable birth control. There are several anti-abortion House members who are pro-family planning and so support the rewording of the act. Unfortunately, when Planned Parenthood becomes actively involved in an issue, abortion rights automatically come up.”

Some school health centers, like Central Washington University, stockpiled birth control pills before the prices spiked, but these reserves are now dwindling or empty. The Welty Heath Center carried a generic form of the birth control pill at the beginning of the 2006 school year but no longer does so.
In response to the DRA, the Planned Parenthood Federation of America (PPFA) has worked directly with Congress, while Planned Parenthood affiliates decide how to act community by community.

“Planned Parenthood of Central Washington faxed letters to state senators earlier this year, asking them to support the rewording of the DRA,” said Davidson. “Now we’re sending postcards to Sen. Patty Murray asking her to take a leadership role in Washington, D.C., on this issue. Other affiliates have used phone banks, editorials and rallies to spread awareness and support.”

Junior Erin Flaucher is the president and founder of student club VOX: Voices for Planned Parenthood, as well as an intern at the Planned Parenthood in Walla Walla. After becoming aware of the DRA, she spoke to Collette for additional information, then called local pharmacies to determine their birth control prices.

“The overwhelming response was, ‘Oh my gosh, prices have increased so much lately!'” said Flaucher.
Tallman’s on Main Street carries Yaz for $49.99 and Yasmin and Ortho Tri-Cyclen Lo for $49.95. Each of these prices buys a month’s supply of the birth control pill. Tallman’s also has the generic pills Sprintec and Tri-Sprintec for $24.95 each. Wal-Mart offers Sprintec and Tri-Sprintec for $9 per month.

Planned Parenthood also offers birth control, as well as several other services such as sexually transmitted infection testing and treatment, at prices that depend on certain circumstances. Interested students can call the Walla Walla Planned Parenthood for answers to questions about qualifications for free services.

Whitman’s student health insurance covers the cost of birth control on a tiered co-pay basis dependant on the price of the pills. The Welty Health Center can have a clinician write a prescription and fax it to Planned Parenthood and local pharmacies, as well as provide transportation.

Flaucher says VOX is actively involved in spreading awareness and support for the birth control pricing issue. Earlier this year, she faxed over 100 letters signed by Whitman students to Washington State Senators Murray and Maria Cantwell, asking for their support.

“Birth control use is prevalent among college students,” said Flaucher. “For most women, this is the point in their lives when it becomes an important choice.”

“The biggest concern caused by the Act is that many women are going without birth control,” said Davidson. “The DRA has forced many women to make a choice between paying for rent and groceries or birth control. It’s putting so many women at risk.”

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