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Tuesday, September 26, 2023


Drug price hike raises concerns

Because of a legislative act passed earlier this year, the price of birth control medication has gone up to $35 from $10, prompting a sharp decline in the consumption of oral contraceptives by students at the UH Health Center.

"It’s part of legislation that eliminated colleges and university health centers from being eligible to receive nominal pricing from drug companies," UH Health Center Chief Pharmacist Kizzy Stewart-Judie said.

The most common complaint by female students has been that birth control has become too expensive. The Health Center staff is expecting even more vocal opposition since the price hike.

The Drug Reduction Act of 2005 is a piece of legislation that discourages college and university health centers to receive discounted medications from drug companies. Drug companies thatoffer large discounts to university health centers are required to pay more to be included in Medicaid, according to the Houston Chronicle.

"No other drugs have gone up because of this act," UH Nurse Practitioner Virginia Miller said. "It was strictly for birth control."

Birth control pills are the only prescriptions affected because of the large discount that the University has given to students in the past, Miller said.

The increase has affected those without student insurance the most.

"(For) any generic birth control, students with insurance would be paying $14, so for a student, it wasn’t as significant. The blow was somewhat absorbed because of the student insurance assistance," Stewart-Judie said. "But for those who have no student insurance going from 10 to 35 (dollars) is, of course, a problem."

The Health Center Pharmacy also offers generic drugs, which can cost $25 for uninsured students or $15 for those with insurance. The more recently produced medications, such as Ortho Tri-Cyclen Lo, which made its debut in August 2002, will not have a generic version until its patent has expired.

Nuvaring, a birth control alternative to pills, also does not have a generic counterpart and has gone up to $35 from $10 during the summer.

"For the average person coming in, whether they had student insurance or not, they were able to enjoy a $10 price for birth control," Stewart-Judie said. "However, once the cost went up, student insurance took more of a role as far as coverage of their birth control."

The price increase went into effect approximately mid-June at UH, delaying the price increase that was effective in January, mainly by stockpiling birth control drugs. The Health Center bought extra amounts of medication at the discounted price before having to buy them at retail amounts from drug companies.

"We had bought as much as we could at the cheaper price ahead of time, so we used that and when we were out, then we had to raise the price," UH Health Center Chief Nurse Laura Moore said.

Stewart-Judie, who ordered extra medication to stall the hike, said that other local university health center pharmacists have done the same.

"As far as other colleges that I’ve spoken to, a few of the other pharmacists at other universities have done the same thing, as far as getting in as much as they could, so (the price increase) wouldn’t be taken into effect quite so soon," Stewart-Judie said.

Before the hike in prices, employees had been warning students of the change months in advance.

"We knew it was going to happen," Miller said. "I said, ‘Price is going to go up, buy them all if you can.’"

Moore also said that students were advised to stockpile medications for themselves.

"We were certainly encouraging students to buy as much as they could of the $10 (medications) while we had it," Moore said.

The Health Center is also warning students that transferring their birth control prescriptions to local pharmacies will result in higher prices. Two chain-store pharmacies, Walgreens and CVS, offer Ortho Tri-Cyclen Lo for a one-month supply for $51.99 and $53.59, respectively.

"The birth control prices here are still set below what you find in a retail setting, if that’s any consolation, whatsoever," Stewart-Judie said.

Despite the price hike, Miller and Moore said that student attendance at the women’s clinic has not lowered.

"We’re trying to offer students as many alternatives to birth control pills as we can," Moore said. "So, certainly, if they want to come in and talk to us, we can get them that information."

The Health Center at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston has received student complaints of switching over to generic medication, according to the Houston Chronicle,.

"Once in a while, I have somebody who says (it’s a problem, but) it’s very rare," Miller said. "Most women do fine on generics."

Students foregoing the purchase of birth control are advised to take precautions, such as using other forms of contraceptives, such as using female condoms or abstaining to avoid unwanted pregnancies or sexually transmitted diseases, Miller said.

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