On March 11, President Obama signed into law a bill that will allow pharmaceutical companies the option of once again offering low-cost birth control to college campus clinics.
A congressional act in 2005 had inadvertently removed college health clinics from eligibility for reduced-price contraceptives.
“In 2005, Congress passed the Deficit Reduction Act, which tightened eligibility for nominally priced drugs,” a Planned Parenthoodpress release regarding Obama’s move said.
Because of this, campus clinics were no longer eligible for reduced-price birth control, and the prices of contraceptives from college and university clinics increased.
“As a result, women have been paying up to 10 times more each month for basic contraception,” the press release said.
Linda Timmes Ross, a nurse at the UMW clinic, was upset when the law reduced the availability of low-cost birth control.
“It’s not fair,” she had said to a student at the time. “Poor people should be able to have sex too.”
Although the Omnibus Appropriations Bill gives pharmaceutical companies the option of giving campus clinics low-cost birth control, Ross says that it is up to the distributors whether they offer this service or not.
In fact, Deborah Kotz of “U.S. News and World Report” said that clinics may not be offered low-cost birth control until the next academic year.
Before the bill was passed, the UMW Women’s Health Center offered birth control for between $3 and $4. Currently, the clinic buys and sells birth control at $12 a pack, and although the cost for students has increased, the clinic makes no profit.
Even if the price of birth control decreases, the health center does not know if it will have enough money to offer alternative forms of birth control such as NuvaRings, which have no generic equivalents and are therefore more expensive than oral contraceptives.
“We don’t know if other forms of birth control will be lower-priced,” Ross said. “Time will tell. If the price of NuvaRings does not come down, there are not enough savings to offset the high cost, particularly at a time of budget cuts.”
Senior Maggie Smith says that she did not attempt to buy birth control on campus until this year, because she had been so dissuaded by the dramatic rise of prices in the past. However, Smith ended up buying the pill elsewhere when faced with the complexities of the women’s health center system.
“In order to get birth control or even a pelvic exam, you have to watch this video online,” said Smith. “And then you have to take an online quiz about the video, and then you have to print that quiz out and take it with you when you make your appointment in person.”
Smith commented that making an appointment in person can be difficult considering that the clinic is only open four hours a week, during hours that many students have class.
“You can’t call [to make an appointment], so you have to bring this piece of paper saying that you took the quiz into them as if you were a child, not an adult who’s done this before,” Smith said.
Smith said that after making an appointment, she had to take a class about understanding birth control and her options. Only after all of this could she receive a pelvic exam and birth control.
“I just decided, screw this, I can go home on the weekend and get a pelvic exam and get my birth control all in one day,” Smith said.
Although Smith thinks that the video should be available as a resource, she does not think that everyone should be required to go through such a process.
“I understand they want people to be informed,” Smith said. “I think if you want to get a pelvic exam you should know what you’re getting into, but I think [the video] should be optional. I’m 21, and I don’t feel like I should have to watch an introductory video on what happens during pelvic exams.”
Senior Sylvia Sierra expressed similar feelings towards the women’s clinic system.
“The first time I had to go there and make an appointment, and they didn’t really have any convenient times.” Sierra said. “I was really frustrated. I called my mom asking if I could get it somewhere else.”
Ross and Associate Director of the UMW Health Clinic Susanne Deleon defended the system, saying that part of their job as nurses on a college campus is to educate. They explained that they never know how much education their patients have had.
“Some have a good sex education background, and with some it’s like in ‘Mean Girls’ with the coach who says you’ll die if you have sex,” Ross said, adding that even women who have been to private practices may not have been given enough education.
“I think it makes a huge difference for people to really know about their bodies,” Ross said.
“We have made it a little easier to make an appointment,” Deleon said, saying that students must only make an appointment if they are new and that the clinic now requires the video, but not the class.
“Appointments are made in person so that we can make sure that we select the right type of appointment, get the appropriate gynecological history and explain the fee structure,” Ross said.
Although they can make appointments outside of the regular women’s clinic hours, Deleon and Ross stressed that the inconvenient hours are due to budget constraints.
“We send Pap Smear specimens away by mail all together,” Deleon said. If appointments were more spaced out and specimens were sent individually, it would increase the cost of appointments, which the clinic has tried to minimize in light of increased birth control costs.
Both Ross and Deleon stress that they want all to find the best option for them, regardless of whether they ends up using a service through the school or not.
“The generic brand of Yaz [birth control pill] is $43,” Ross said. “So we can’t sell it. But we will be happy to write a prescription for it. We’re not trying to monopolize anything.”