Prescription costs set to rise at McKinley next semester

By Jonathan Wroble

Beginning fall 2007, students receiving any prescription medicine, from Prozac to birth control pills, at McKinley Health Center will face what the center is calling a “universal co-payment.”

“If you get a prescription, it’s at the minimum going to be $5 per prescription per month,” said Dr. Robert Palinkas, director of the McKinley Health Center. “We think that it’s our obligation to let students know about the changed model.”

Currently, 90 percent of student visitors to McKinley receive medicine and care at no cost, excluding the prepaid health fee factored into tuition.

Next semester, any medicine received at the window – excluding over-the-counter items like cold packs – will carry a minimal fee of $5.

This new fee is a result of the federal Deficit Reduction Act of 2005, which eliminated financial incentives for pharmaceutical companies who provide low-cost medication to universities and non-profit organizations. The act was signed in February 2006, but major medication providers didn’t make price changes until four months ago.

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“Pharmaceutical companies didn’t announce how they were going to deal with this until the last week of December 2006,” Palinkas said. “We’ve already taken some hits because of the price increases that occurred (then).”

In fact, Palinkas estimates that McKinley will lose up to $2 million this spring semester due to rising costs of various medications. The prices of some prescription medicines, including the brand-name contraceptive Ortho Tri-Cyclen Lo, have increased tenfold.

Nationwide, health services at numerous universities have already hiked medication prices. At the University of Connecticut, the cost of Ortho Tri-Cyclen Lo doubled in January to $20 per month, and is expected to double again come August.

Within the Big Ten, the university health services at Wisconsin, Penn State and Iowa have made similar decisions.

“(McKinley) spends a big chunk of its budget trying to keep the cost of pharmaceuticals pretty low,” Palinkas said. “We dialogued with a lot of student groups to find a model they’d be least unhappy with.”

Still, some of next fall’s price increases are more than likely to test student happiness. Ortho Tri-Cyclen Lo, which more than 3,000 campus women currently use at no charge, will cost $22 per month.

NuvaRing, a monthly intravaginal contraceptive, will carry the same price.

To address the concerns of students on birth control, Palinkas said Tri-Sprintec is a contraceptive “as close as it gets” to Ortho Tri-Cyclen Lo. Tri-Sprintec will be available for $5 per month in the fall.

“Half of women are using some form of contraceptives on this campus,” he said. “(We hope) that almost everybody will successfully make the jump.”

The coming price rise will not affect McKinley’s general student fee, which is $196 for spring 2007. Student visits, professional advice and the majority of lab tests will continue to be provided at no cost.

“Almost everybody in the real world is paying a co-pay, so in a sense we’re moving to a standard industry practice,” Palinkas said. “We don’t think $5 is going to result in anyone not getting treated.”