Birth Control Prices Are Higher In Some Low-Income Areas

A new study has found something surprising: the price of contraception not only varies by zip code, but is more expensive in low-income areas. Researchers at the University of Tennessee analyzed cost data from a website that provides pricing information on common prescriptions for uninsured consumers without federal discounts or supplemental plans and found price variations by income level:

Researchers focused on the price of seven commonly-used contraceptives — including various forms of the pill as well as transvaginal options like the ring. They cross-referenced the price information across various counties with median household incomes from the 2010 census.

Nearly every prescription contraceptive was more expensive in low-income zip codes, the researchers found.

In most cases, price differed by just a few dollars. For two of the contraceptives, the cost was significantly less in the wealthiest zip codes.

The researchers weren’t able to conclude why prices would vary so much by the incomes of the residents in a particular area. One speculated that it may be due to a lack of large chain pharmacies that can offer lower prices.

The wide variation in birth control prices isn’t unique to Florida: A survey conducted in New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut found that the price of one popular birth control, Tri-Sprintec 28, cost anywhere from $9 to $63, and Yaz-28 ranged from $68 to $112, with some reaching as much as $1,000. Contraception can be extremely expensive for women without insurance, with the costs of birth control pills coming to $1,210 a year on average.

While these figures are only for women who don’t have insurance to help cover the costs, contraception can be expensive even for insured women. Women with private insurance pay about half the total costs of oral contraceptives, while typical out-of-pocket costs for all other drugs is only 33 percent. The Affordable Care Act includes a provision that would eliminate co-pays for contraception.

Yet even with the high price tag, contraception has a big impact on women’s economic outlook. In a recent survey, a majority of women said that birth control helps them support themselves financially, complete their education, and either keep or get a job. This has held true since 1970, when access to the pill encouraged women to pursue careers by ensuring that investments in education and careers wouldn’t be disrupted by pregnancy and lowering the cost of delaying marriage. And the entire economy has benefited: Thanks to women’s entrance to the workforce during those years, our economy is a quarter larger.