EC not easy to access

By Rahul

NARAL Pro Choice America’s “BC4ME” campaign is bringing attention to the fact that over 30 million women in the US need access to birth control and one in three of those women struggles with the high cost of prescription birth control.

After an experience with birth control in the US, I wanted to take a look at one specific part of the conversation: accessibility to emergency contraception (EC).

Putting cost of EC (such as Plan-B) into perspective is difficult until you see a comparison for yourself. In India, people pay $ 50,000 (US) to drive a Honda Accord, while people in the United States have access to the same car at about half the price.

However, when we look at something as vital as access to family planning care, we see the tables are turned.

I was born and raised in India and came to the United States for my undergraduate degree about seven years ago. After paying a ridiculously high price for Plan-B a couple of times in the US, I decided to find out how much it costs in India. I was home for my winter vacation last year and one evening I walked into a pharmacy in New Delhi and asked the pharmacist for an i-pill (the counter part of Plan-B in India). I reached for my wallet to make sure I had enough cash. I was already aware of its cost in the United States, so I expected to pay somewhere between 2000 – 3000 Rupees (or $40-$60 in theUS). To my surprise, the pharmacist only asked for 100 Rupees (approximately $2 US). I didn’t know whether to feel elated at this revelation or to feel cheated having spent so much money buying it in the US.

The different experiences showed me how much disparity there is in the right to access basic healthcare. Why are cars cheaper in the US, but access to basic preventative care so much more costly? When it comes to using something as personal as emergency contraceptive pills, why is access in the US so financially burdensome that some people are essentially barred from exercising this right?

One can purchase EC for a fraction of the price in other countries. The table below provides a price comparison for the morning-after pill in different countries.

Emergency Contraceptive pills (Plan – B or its counterpart)

USA

France

UK

India

Approximate Cost (in US dollars)

35-70

10

40*

2-3

 

 

 

 

 

* Free for UK citizens

Morning-after pills (sold for $10 in France and several other European countries) are usually manufactured by US companies. Then why are they so expensive in the United States? Basic economic principles tell us that higher prices can deter people from purchasing a product. The current high price of EC in the US could reduce its accessibility to a large part of the country.

In financially uncertain circumstances, we have to choose where we spend our resources. Women may choose not to spend limited money on the morning-after pill (especially if the choice is between EC and food on the table) and just hope that they don’t get pregnant. This could result in numerous unintended pregnancies that could have been prevented if the morning-after pill (and all birth control for that matter) was made affordable to everyone. Across the pond, a study in the British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology shows how fast and easy access to the morning-after pill could prevent ten percent more unintended pregnancies.

Matters become worse for young women. The newest form of EC, ella®, is only available by prescription, making it potentially more expensive than Plan-B. Such financial constraints may be even more burdensome for young women with limited access to income who deserve the right to the most effective forms of family planning.

In the United States where Republicans, Democrats and everyone in between have been fighting over abortion for about four decades, one would presume that easy access to the morning-after pill would be a bipartisan agenda. Unfortunately, the price and lack of access tell a completely different tale.

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