A bitter pill

Birth-control costs have gone up, and it’s female students who are paying

Photo By Meredith J. Cooper

Where to go:
Student Health Center, CSU Chico: 898-5241.

Student Health Clinic, Butte College: 895-2441.

Planned Parenthood: (800) 230-7526.

Women’s Health Specialists: 891-1911.

Many Chico State students survive on a diet of 15-cent ramen noodles, and for entertainment they take free trips to Bidwell Park. Between education and living expenses, money can be an issue.

“I’m a college student, I work two jobs, and I barely have enough money for bills and rent,” said Erica Ramirev, a Chico State senior.

When her NuvaRing birth control from the Student Health Center changed in price from $6 to $40, Ramirev was forced to take her business elsewhere, to Women’s Health Specialists.

“I didn’t need another burden,” Ramirev said.

Starting Jan. 1, 2007, the prices of most of the discounted birth control offered by the Chico State Student Health Center tripled or quadrupled. That’s because the Deficit Reduction Act of 2005 made it so pharmaceutical companies no longer get government incentives to provide rebates for university health centers across the United States.

Previously, the Health Center sold the majority of birth control for $5 or $6 per month. Now prices average $14 to $20 per month for the pill and $40 per month for the ring, said Tammy Meigs, a Student Health Center pharmacist.

This change in accessibility will cause students on limited budgets to seek help elsewhere.

Lori Mankin, a Chico State junior, recently switched to Kaiser Permanente’s inexpensive online ordering to get her birth control.

“My mom had to go back to work to put me through college,” Mankin said. “I don’t have a lot of extra cash.”

For the last year and a half, Mankin got the birth control pill from the Student Health Center. When the price changed from $5 to $35 she switched to a different pill, but it caused dramatic mood swings.

“Here I had this perfect birth control that was very reliable and now I’m a rollercoaster,” Mankin said.

Pedro Douglas, Chico State’s director of Student Health Services, said that the rise in cost has proved troublesome and, although it’s outside of Chico State’s control, he anticipated that students might look for other options.

“It is common sense to try to get inexpensive birth control,” he said. “Maybe lawmakers so far removed from college forgot about the effects of costs.”

At Butte College only two kinds of birth control are offered now for $4, said Renee Carini, director of the Student Health Clinic. The rise in costs prevents the clinic from supplying a wider variety.

“It is unfortunate that we have to pass the increase on to students,” Carini said. “It is an inconvenience for students to go to family planning clinics instead of staying on campus.”

The prices at Chico State are high, but they’re still lower than buying birth control at retail locations without insurance. Birth control without insurance can range from $24 to $75 per month, according to drugstore.com.

Students wanting inexpensive prescription birth control will have to seek community clinics, such as Planned Parenthood or the Women’s Health Specialists.

The Planned Parenthood clinic offers condoms, the pill, the patch, the ring, the shot and emergency contraception. Christine Wilson is one of the community health educators working on sexual awareness.

“I have talked to several people who specifically said they can’t afford the cost of birth control at the Student Health Center,” Wilson said, but Planned Parenthood does not anticipate any significant changes at its clinic due to the price adjustments on campus.

Through reimbursements from Family PACT program and MediCal, the clinic provides free birth control to 95 percent of its clients. Low-income patients concerned about confidentiality or lack of insurance coverage qualify after a brief screening.

For clients who do not qualify, the birth control pill costs $20 per pack, which is about equal to the cost at the Student Health Center.

Women’s Health Specialists, a grassroots feminist organization, avoided the Deficit Reduction Act by becoming a Title X clinic in December 2006, giving it special rates through the federal government. Women’s Health Specialists uses the Family PACT Program to provide free birth control, which makes up 80 percent to 85 percent of its services. The Chico clinic is one of eight in Northern California.

“We envision the kind of health care that the community needs and bring it to the women,” said Christina Comfort, clinic administrator. “We believe in sharing all the information out there and letting them make their decision.”

The changes in accessibility to birth control confront female students with the choice of how to protect themselves from pregnancy.

“Women should never have to worry about this,” said Lori Mankin. “This is a very dangerous move against women who want to make educated decisions.”