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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

Three Weeks On, One Week Off

Photo by Edson Bueno
Photo by Edson Bueno

The cost for birth control at schools like UMass Boston has gone up due to a change in the 2005 Medicaid rebate law, which has lowered the incentive for drug companies to give college campuses large discounts on some prescription drugs,

“The budget deficit act in 2005 was a federal act that was passed by the President in hopes to save money and look at the smoothing out of the Medicare/Medical plan,” Kathleen Golden McAndrew, Executive Director of Health Services, said. “What happened as a result of that was that certain areas with pharmacy and drugs, which was included in the act, were looked at and as a result, college health programs all throughout the United States, who used to be deeply discounted with birth control pills, were no longer able to do such, where we were able to purchase our birth control pills at a discount. We were notified of this December of 2006 and we were all, of course, very upset about it.”

The change to the rebate law took place this January, which affects approximately 39 percent of undergraduate women, according to the American College Health Association.

“We’re working hard with Congress to fix this problem,” Lisa Dacey, Media Relations Coordinator for Planned Parenthood League of Massachusetts, said. “We believe that every low-income woman and every college student deserves access to low-cost birth control. It really is a part of basic health care.”

As well, the ACHA, of which UMass Boston is a part, took this issue on as a group to try and make changes.

“This is of much concern because we want to offer our students the lowest prices we can,” Golden McAndrew said. “So, the association took this on and went forward and tried to get this changed, because we needed to offer a low price. We were just informed in July that [the government] will not reconsider this as something that we should be exempt from, like some of the federal, local and community health centers that are federally subsidized, because the feeling within the federal programs is that there’s enough programs out there that offer discounts for students.”

This sort of reduction in availability is just one issue, as many students are busy and do not have the time to deal with pharmacies, or have no other method of obtaining their pills.

“This is certainly a big obstacle for women at schools that are affected,” Dacey said. “Especially in rural areas, it may be the only place where they can get their birth control. Big increases in prices force women to decide their priorities-groceries or pills that month.”

To help counteract this lack of convenience, UMass Boston’s Health Services tried to look ahead and planned for the cuts to take place.

“Once we found out that we were no longer able to purchase the deeply discounted prices of birth control pills, we went out and bulk purchased as much as we could, anticipating this was going to happen to us,” Golden McAndrew said. “We currently have a supply, so students that we currently see we’re able to still supply, but that’s dwindling and will run out. Since it doesn’t make sense for us to purchase regular price and have students have to come in and pay regular price because we don’t have a pharmacy here on site, we’re writing prescriptions for those who want to continue on pills and we’re looking for the best options we can.”

Currently, the only pill that Health Services has left is Cyclessa, a generic form of the name-brand birth control Ortho Tri-Cyclen. However, a generic form does not necessarily mean that it will not work the same.

“There are no greater health risks,” Patricia Heron, the Director of General Medicine, said. “Basically, they have to have the same active ingredients. The fillers can be a bit different, but there are rules and requirements that the FDA sets for generic medication. There are certain requirements that they have to meet to be called generic; they’re not entirely the same. The difference may be in the additive, be it in the color or other filler-type medications, but they are not more dangerous. It just means that when it goes generic, other companies can manufacture, but they still have to stay within the same requirements in order to get FDA approval.”

Regardless of the federal decision and the dwindling supplies of generic pills, Health Services has not given up on this issue and is continuing to push for what was once available.

“We’re going to continue to support our professional organizations that are going forth and trying to lobby to see if we can be considered exempt as a ‘safety net provider,'” Golden McAndrew said, “which some organizations that are federally funded, like family planning services, are exempt under. We’re fighting a federal decision that was made, but we’ll continue to do so because we feel that our students deserve that cost-effectiveness and convenience.”