After the College abruptly lost its contract with contraceptive manufacturer Organon in early February, college officials scrambled to find a solution that would allow them to continue distributing birth control to women on campus at low costs. However, both routes pursued by the College?buying in bulk with peer schools and purchasing generic versions of the previously available contraceptives?have been largely abandoned by the health center.
"The coalition is not happening," said Student Health Program Administrator Caitlin Gutheil, referring to the first possibility. "That fell apart."
The initial plan to create a consortium with other Maine colleges to purchase birth control at reduced prices was abandoned when other schools turned to alternate suppliers instead, according to Staff Nurse and Clinical Care Coordinator Wendy Sansone.
"They have the staff and the means to manage a cash operation," Sansone said.
The second alternative that the College considered was buying and distributing generic birth control to students at cost. Nonetheless, such a plan has been all but discarded, as it would require the health center to operate like a pharmacy, a role that the current staff is not prepared to tackle, according to Gutheil.
"The main issue with buying generic and stocking it here and supplying it to students at cost is front desk time," Gutheil said, noting that the health center would need to bill insurance companies and deal with increased financial transactions, were it to take on this function.
"We're not staffed in a way that we have that kind of manpower or woman power," Gutheil said.
The College lost its contract with contraceptive supplier Organon last month due to rising prescription costs triggered by a change in the Medicaid rebate law. In the past, drug companies received an incentive to provide discounts to colleges, but the amended law eliminated any such perks.
Before the College lost its contract, 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, prices so manageable that the health center was able to distribute the contraceptives to students free of charge.
The same prescriptions now cost more than $20 a pack for oral contraceptives and $30 a pack for the NuvaRing, marking an increase in price that the health center was not prepared to cover.
Dudley Coe Health Center currently has a surplus of Cyclessa, which it will continue to distribute to students until the supply expires.
According to Sansone, some students on campus have opted to switch to Cyclessa, rather than have their prescriptions for Desogen or the NuvaRing filled elsewhere.
Sansone warns that switching birth control brands is not for everyone.
"Some people can tolerate some pills and not others. It's really trial and error," she said.
For those women not on Cyclessa, the health center has been writing prescriptions that students can get filled at any local pharmacy with an insurance co-pay.
Students wishing to maintain their confidentiality and not use their parents' insurance can opt to fill their prescription at Planned Parenthood, where costumers pay on a sliding scale.
Despite initial concern that students would find it difficult to adapt to the new system according to which they must obtain a written prescription from the health center and fill it at the pharmacy of their choice, staff members have seen very few problems with the transition.
"Students, from my understanding, have been great about learning the new system and working with it," Gutheil said.
"There hasn't been a sense that as a result of this change, women have stopped using birth control," she said.
"These are very responsible young women," she said. "Sure, everyone feels bad that it's not free, but I haven't heard from anyone that it's a difficult thing."
The price of Plan B emergency contraception has also increased in recent months, jumping from $7.95 a pack to $17.95 a pack. Nonetheless, the College has decided that it will continue to provide Plan B to students free of charge.
At RiteAid, each pack of Plan B costs $41.99, a markup of approximately $24.
"We're buying it directly to distribute," Sansone said. "Not only are we giving it away for free, but we have no intention of making a profit. Bowdoin women are in a good place with that."
According to Sansone, the price of Plan B went up due to distribution licenses and re-packaging costs associated with its new over-the-counter status.
Safe Space member Laura Belden '08 regrets the College's loss of its contract with Organon but praises the health center for continuing to fund Plan B.
"It may be more inconvenient to have to get a prescription and can certainly pose a financial burden for some, but I think the fact that our health center is still supplying Plan B at no cost is extremely commendable and perhaps even more essential," Belden said.
According to Belden, having Plan B available on campus is especially crucial for survivors of sexual assault.
"Knowing that Plan B is easily obtainable on the Bowdoin campus can provide some relief, and as slight as it may be compared to the emotional trauma survivors face, every little bit of support helps," she said.
Sansone said that the women to whom she's given packs of Plan B understand that it is not intended to be used as a primary form of birth control.
"The side effects [of using Plan B frequently] would be that your cycle would be so confused," she said. "It wouldn't hurt you, but it would drive you crazy."
The health center and members of Bowdoin Women's Association (BWA) distributed packs of Plan B in the Union on Wednesday at its third "EC Does it Day" this year.
"In past years, we used to give out packs of two. Now we're giving out one because of rising costs," said BWA Co-Chair Elizabeth Sweet '07.
"We thought it was important to bring to people's attention that it's still free," she said.
According to Sansone and Gutheil, the College has not entirely ruled out the possibility of distributing contraceptives again in the future.
"I wouldn't say it's a complete impossibility," Gutheil said. "It's something that we still talk about."
"I can't speak for down the road, but as of now, there are no plans to stop stocking Plan B," she added.