A bitter pill to swallow

Major birth control manufacturer Ortho-McNeil hikes its prices, and publicly funded clinics are reeling.

Published August 24, 2006 7:47PM (EDT)

It's been an odd week for women's reproductive rights. First there was news of the infiltration of crisis pregnancy centers into poor black neighborhoods; then came the FDA's approval of over-the-counter sales of Plan B to women 18 and over (which is both a loss and an enormous win); and now comes news that Ortho-McNeil, a birth control manufacturer, is suddenly charging family-planning clinics much more for certain pills, according to Slate.

The change took effect at the start of July, pushing the price charged to publicly funded clinics from mere pennies for a month's worth of pills to more than $18, Slate reports. These clinics are reeling from the unexpected price hike and hope to replace Ortho's pills with affordable generics. So how can one company cause the industry so much strain? Ortho made "more than 70 percent of the birth-control pills distributed at publicly funded clinics," according to Slate.

Ortho has refused to explain the dramatic price hike, leaving many doctors and clinicians to speculate. One theory is that the availability of generic replacements has foiled Orthos previous plan of keeping "prices low [in hopes of building] brand loyalty among women who might one day switch to private insurance." Others guess that a rise in Ortho's commercial pricing could allow it to raise its prices in the public sector according to federal regulations.

Now many clinics are considering a dramatic reduction in services, hours and birth control choices offered; and some locations may close entirely. So, let me get this straight: While poor women's reproductive choices remain severely limited and Title X, a federal family-planning program, remains pathetically underfunded, crisis pregnancy centers are spreading criminal misinformation with support from the government?

By Tracy Clark-Flory

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