Since the College lost its contract with contraceptive manufacturer Organon last week due to the rising cost of prescription medications, college administrators and the staff of Dudley Coe Health Center have been working to get birth control back on the shelves.
"Students' health and well-being is first and foremost," said Senior Associate Dean of Student Affairs Margaret Hazlett.
"We recognize that students are upset, but it wasn't intentional," she said. "The rising cost of drugs is impacting everyone."
According to Student Health Program Administrator Caitlin Gutheil, Organon had been providing oral contraceptives Desogen and Cyclessa to the health center for about $1.80 a pack and the NuvaRing for about $3 a pack. At that price, the College had been able to cover the costs and distribute the medications to women on campus free of charge.
However, the price of prescription medication has risen drastically since the College developed its contract with Organon around 2004, and the same products are now sold for more than $20 a pack for oral contraceptives and $30 a pack for the NuvaRing.
"They've contacted us and said, basically, 'the deal's over,'" Gutheil said.
In a December 2005 interview, former College Physician and Director of the Health Center Jeff Benson said that birth control was, by far, the most commonly prescribed medication at the health center.
Benson's abrupt departure from his post at the health center and the College's sudden loss of its birth control contract one week later were in no way related, Hazlett said.
According to Staff Nurse and Clinical Care Coordinator Wendy Sansone, the health center ordered 1,632 packs of Desogen, 960 packs of Cyclessa, and 1,386 NuvaRings in 2006.
In-stock Cyclessa will be available through the end of the semester. Plan B emergency contraception, which is not supplied by Organon, will also still be available. While it is now distributed free of charge, the price is going to increase, according to Sansone.
"We are not sure how we will manage that increase, which is significant," she said.
The health center staff is working to find a solution to the recent distribution halt. According to Gutheil, the staff is considering buying generic versions of the previously offered contraceptives, and is also working with other Maine schools to create a consortium that could save money by purchasing birth control in bulk.
The idea to collaborate with other schools was suggested to Bowdoin via e-mail by staff at the University of Maine-Farmington. As the staff of the Bowdoin health center began discussing this possibility with neighboring schools, it became apparent that Bowdoin is one of the few colleges to have offered birth control free of charge, Gutheil said.
Bates College, which has also lost its contract with Organon, used to offer oral contraceptives to students at the low cost of $2 to $5 a pack.
"As our supplies run out, we won't be able to do it anymore," said Bates College Health Educator Cindy Visbaras in a phone interview with the Orient.
"It's a nationwide problem," Visbaras added. "I think they've pretty much just let their contracts expire."
Until a more permanent solution is found, the Dudley Coe Health Center will be writing prescriptions for students that can be filled at any local pharmacy.
"This was such short notice, or we would have planned ahead," Hazlett said.
Tara D'Errico '08 is not satisfied with the temporary solution.
"There are many Bowdoin students who are still under their parents' health insurance plans, and many of these girls would probably prefer not to have their parents know they are on birth control," D'Errico said. "I think girls in general would be less hesitant to go and get birth control if they knew it was completely confidential."
Sophomore Shelley Barron agreed with D'Errico, calling the current situation "unfortunate."
"The issue of getting a prescription, taking it to town, waiting to get it filled, seeing if your insurance is going to cover it?that whole process was simplified a lot by the health center," Barron said. "Even if students are going to have to pay for [birth control] in the future, having it there will make things easier."
Although students can opt to pay for the prescriptions themselves at local pharmacies instead of using their parents' insurance and paying only a co-pay, such a plan could be costly. The prices for a one-month supply of Desogen, Cyclessa, and NuvaRing at CVS without a prescription plan are $50.99, $59.59, and $49.79, respectively. At Planned Parenthood, the cost of contraceptives is based on a sliding fee scale and depends on the costumer's income. According to staff members at Planned Parenthood in Portland, the majority of students can expect to pay about $12 a pack for oral contraceptives and $15 a pack for the NuvaRing.
Some students said they wondered why the health center choose not to continue buying birth control from Organon at full price and offer it to students at that cost until a better plan could be negotiated.
In response, Gutheil said that "the health center isn't set up to operate as a pharmacy or to bill students' insurance, so that's not an option we pursued."
While a number of students are upset about the sudden change in distribution policy, many understand that the change in contract was, in many ways, out of the College's hands.
"While we are still upset about the situation, it sounds like the administration is doing everything they can to figure out a new plan that will work best for the Bowdoin community," said Bowdoin Student Government (BSG) Treasurer Becca Ginsberg '07.
BSG President DeRay Mckesson '07 agreed.
"From my understanding, this is truly no one's fault and we'll all have to be patient as the College begins to creatively work to resume contraceptive distribution," he said.
Bowdoin Women's Association (BWA) Chair Cassia Roth '08 is working alongside the health center to ensure that women on campus know what this change in policy entails and what options are available.
With a public question-and-answer session planned, the BWA hopes "to let the campus know what their options are for obtaining birth control, and that it is not impossible to get it," Roth said.
"A lot of people are not in the know," she said.