The State of Birth Control in Northwest Arkansas

The Senate passed the 2009 Omnibus Appropriations Bill on Tuesday, which included a provision titled “The Affordable Birth Control Act”. This provision will make it easier to get affordable pills/shots/rings/ on college campuses and community health clinics. It’s on its way to the prez, whose signature may turn around the last four years of grossly overpriced birth control in places it should be the cheapest.

The Deficit Reduction Act of 2005, passed by George W. Bush, destroyed cheap birth control. By the time campus clinics were out of their cheaply-priced overstock, students saw prices rocket to 300%, even 900% for brands like Seasonale or Yaz that limit periods to 4 times a year– a godsend for women with dysmenorrhea, or hella painful periods. A regular pack of pills went from less than $10 to $20.

Why was birth control so cheap in the first place? Prior to the Deficit Reduction Act (DRA), drug manufacturers were able to sell at huge discounts to “safety net” providers, such as university and community clinics, but the DRA made it so that giving discounts required companies to pay more to Medicaid. Whether this change in the budget was intentional or not, its affect on women could have been substantial.

Luckily, on the University of Arkansas campus, the Pat Walker Health Center was quick. They had less than a month’s notice that they’d be losing this deal and stockpiled all they could. This kept students safe until Wal-Mart enacted their much-loved $4 generic drug program a year later. I never thought I’d say this, but, thanks Wal-Mart.

Another saving grace was Planned Parenthood, where many university students went when prices went up. Some received prescriptions at a cheaper price, while others were able to apply for Arkansas Medicaid. Through Medicaid, women are eligible for free annual exams and birth control. This is good information for those of you about to graduate, since you’ll have to get your needs met elsewhere.

I spoke with Mary Alice Serafini, the Director of the Pat Walker Health Center, who said that they’re very excited about the possibility of affordable birth control at their clinic again. “I’m hoping to see an email [from the drug manufacturers] when I get back to my office,” she joked. There is still the possibility that companies that previously gave the discount will not offer it again. Serafini said that the Health Center would immediately begin to call the companies and see what offers existed. It’s good to know the people in charge are following the issue.

The Bill is set to be signed by President Obama on Thursday, which will fund the goverment until September and hopefully bring about a ray of sunshine for women. It may seem like small beans in comparison to other problems the country is facing, but affordable birth control puts women in control of their own success. And the country could use some successful people right now. I asked Julia Furniss-Roberts, an employee at Planned Parenthood of Fayetteville, if they were excited about this possible change.

“Yes we are, yes we are”. So nice, she said it twice.

[Photo by spentpenny via Flickr and Creative Commons 2.0]