The change is due to a provision in a federal law that ended a practice by which drug manufacturers provided prescription contraception to the health centers at deeply discounted rates. The centers then passed along the savings to students and others.
Some Democratic lawmakers in Washington are pressing for new legislation by year’s end that would reverse the provision, which they say was inadvertently included in a law intended to reduce Medicaid abuse. In the meantime, health care and reproductive rights advocates are warning that some young women are no longer receiving the contraception they did in the past.
Some college clinics have reported sudden drops in the numbers of contraceptives sold; students have reported switching to less expensive contraceptives or considering alternatives like the so-called morning-after pill; and some clinics, including one at Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Me., have stopped stocking some prescription contraceptives, saying they are too expensive.
“The potential is that women will stop taking it, and whether or not you can pay for it, that doesn’t mean that you’ll stop having sex,” said Katie Ryan, a senior at the University of North Dakota in Grand Forks, who said that the monthly cost of her Ortho Tri-Cyclen Lo, a popular birth control pill, recently jumped to nearly $50 from $12.
Ms. Ryan, 22, said she had considered switching to another contraceptive to save money, but was unsure which one to pick. She has ended up paying the higher price, but said she was concerned about her budget.
“I do less because of this — less shopping, less going out to eat,” said Ms. Ryan, who has helped organize efforts to educate others on campus about the price jump. “For students, this is very, very expensive.”
Not everyone is troubled by the price increases. Some people said they wondered why college students, many of whom manage to afford daily doses of coffee from Starbucks and downloads from iTunes, should have been given such discounted birth control to begin with, and why drug companies should be granted such a captive audience of students. Others said low-priced, easy-to-attain contraception might encourage a false sense of security about sex.
“From our perspective, this does bring to light a public health concern, but for a different reason,” said Kimberly Martinez, the executive director of the Abstinence Clearinghouse, which advocates abstinence from sex until marriage. “These young women are relying on this contraception to protect them. But contraception isn’t 100 percent — for pregnancy or for disease.”