Student Care Center brings back “morning after” pill

By Rhema Hokama

In late February the Student Care Center (SCC) announced that it would once again distribute Plan B, the popular emergency contraceptive pill. The center stopped stocking the pill last quarter when federal legislation made Plan B available over the counter to women 18 and older.

In its initial announcement last quarter, the SCC cited budgetary reasons for its decision to stop distributing Plan B.

The pill’s switch from prescription to OTC status tripled the cost per dose from around $13 to $36, said Celia Bergman, associate dean of students for student health and administrative affairs.

“Not only did [Plan B] go over the counter, but the price almost tripled. That is something the pharmaceutical industry usually does,” Bergman said.

The SCC’s announcement that it would discontinue distribution of Plan B prompted the Student Government (SG) Executive Slate to meet with Bergman and SCC director Kristine Bordenave in January to bring the pill back to the SCC.

“We expressed that students would often feel that [the SCC] was a safer place to go. And if they went there, we wouldn’t want them turned away,” said third-year Matthew Kennedy, vice president for student affairs.

“[The Executive Slate] sat down with Celia and Kristine. They were very eager to work with us and happy to talk,” he said.

Early in the negotiations, Bergman said that the SCC had initially considered purchasing Plan B at a discounted rate through the Duchossois Center for Advanced Medicine (DCAM) pharmacy at the University of Chicago Hospitals. However, the plan did not materialize.

“That was something we were hoping for, but unfortunately they were not able to negotiate this with their distributor,” Bergman said.

Instead the SCC opted to reallocate money from its 2007–2008 fiscal budget to subsidize the cost of Plan B for University students. The SCC currently offers Plan B to students for a co-payment of $20 per dose, Bergman said.

The SCC distributes between 300 and 400 doses of Plan B per year, Bergman said. She added that preliminary estimates place the cost of continuing to distribute the pill through the SCC at around $2,000 for the remainder of the current fiscal year.

Bergman and Kennedy said that student concern prompted the discussions about the pill’s availability through the SCC.

“After the Maroon’s editorial, I remember hearing from a lot of my friends that it’s unfortunate that [Plan B] is no longer offered at the SCC,” Kennedy said, referring to the paper’s January 25 editorial “The wrong prescription.”

“The Maroon had a big role in instigating it,” he said.

In November, students nationwide saw the cost of contraceptives surge at student health centers at colleges and universities across the country due to a change in federal law. The change put a stop to contraceptive manufacturers’ practice of supplying campus and community health centers with discounted drugs, according to a November New York Times report. Democratic lawmakers are trying to reverse the provision that was inadvertently included in a bill intended to reduce Medicaid abuse.

Students at the University of Chicago were largely unaffected by national trends in contraceptive pricing, Bordenave said in an e-mail statement.

“Contraceptives have been available through the DCAM pharmacy for several years at a very reasonable price and for many brands there was no increase (unlike what we heard about across the nation),” she wrote.

Nevertheless, Bordenave said that she was unable to predict future trends for contraceptive distribution or pricing at the University or nationwide.

“Since we do not govern the pharmaceutical companies, we are unable to determine what the future holds,” she said.

Yet for the immediate future, University students can continue receiving discounted doses of Plan B through the SCC.

“Students can still go to the SCC and sort of have that more private interaction and also talk to a health care provider,” Bergman said. “There’s certainly some education that needs to go with the dispensing of the product, which is why it’s preferable to distribute it at the SCC.”

Kennedy echoed Bergman’s sentiments, adding that financial constraints should not limit a student’s access to emergency contraceptives.

“Such an important drug should be available to all students regardless of their ability to pay or insurance status,” he said.

“This is an issue that affects students very immediately a lot of the time. Obviously when students are distressed, they shouldn’t be turned away.”