By Will Norton-Mosher

UC Santa Cruz students who buy the Nuvaring at the Cowell Student Health Center are discovering that the popular contraceptive has quadrupled in cost.

The price hike originated from a complex deficit reduction bill passed by Congress in 2005.

The bill made discounts on the Nuvaring contraceptive available exclusively to those who use the Medi-Cal insurance policy, which the Student Health Center does not accept. Because of the bill, students will have to pay up to $552 for a single year’s supply of the contraceptive.

Diane Lammote, a pharmacist and the acting manager of UCSC’s Student Health Center, explained that the Health Center is part of a large consortium that has access to lower pricing on particular drugs.

“Certain drug companies give great contract pricing for the population they want to hit, so we don’t get good pricing for cholesterol-lowering drugs–we get good prices for contraceptives.”

The price hike did not come as a surprise. The bill went into effect in January 2007, but the Health Center managed to keep the price increase at bay by stockpiling contraceptives so they could continue to sell them at original prices. Nuvaring was the first to run out, and Desogen, a birth control pill, will be next.

Lammote said the sticker price for Desogen is only going to increase by $5 and that students can switch to the generic version of Desogen in order to keep the price down.

The price increase has put UCSC students who use the Nuvaring, like Veronica De Paolis-Kaluza, in a difficult situation.

“I still don’t know what I’m going to do in a week when I run out of my last refill for this prescription,” she said.

De Paolis-Kaluza said that she was prescribed the Nuvaring because it provides the lowest amount of daily hormones. She said that changing her prescription will cause adverse side effects and interfere with her other medications.

Jane Bogart, the coordinator for the Student Health Outreach and Promotion (SHOP), said students using the Nuvaring might face a monetary dilemma if they decide to switch.

“People will be looking for less expensive options,” she said. “One of the downsides could be that if they use a contraceptive that might not be the match for them, it could cause a few side effects or different side effects that they might not have had on their previous oral medication.”

Bogart said there could be other issues; students might switch to less effective methods, “and, in a worst-case scenario, not use any contraceptive options at all.”

Condoms were an effective alternative, and SHOP, located in the health center basement, sells them for 25 cents a pair, Bogart said. She added that while oral contraceptives do not protect against sexually transmitted infections, condoms do.

Lammote said that the increasing cost would create privacy problems for students on their parents’ insurance.

“So here’s a scenario,” she said. “A female patient has her family’s insurance and would prefer that her family not know that she’s on contraception. When she could pay only $12.50 a month, she could just pay it, and it wouldn’t go to insurance or her parents. Now she has to decide if she’s willing to pay $46 a month out of her pocket or use her parents’ insurance.”

Lammote said that the American College Health Association (ACHA) has contacted the California Medical Society with a request to be put onto the exemption list for the deficit reduction bill. They hope to receive a response this summer.