The Checkout

Good News on Pill Pricing

A reader wrote in recently to complain that everything I write is negative, a common enough complaint about journalism. Well, today, I've got a bit of good news.

Earlier this week, the Federal Trade Commission won a battle with two drug companies that were preventing the wider distribution of a cheaper, generic form of birth control pill.

In 2001, Barr Laboratories filed an application with the FDA to release a generic form of Ovcon, a birth control pill made by Warner Chilcott. At a cost of about 30 percent less than the brand-name version, it was expected to take market share away from Warner Chilcott.

Two years ago, the FTC alleged, Warner Chilcott paid Barr $20 million to postpone offering the generic until 2009.

"The effect of this anticompetitive agreement between Warner Chilcott and Barr has been to deprive purchasers of the choice of a lower-cost generic alternative to Warner Chilcott's higher-priced branded Ovcon," the FTC
said in a complaint filed in federal court.

Warner Chilcott denies the agreement was anticompetitive. Last month, the FTC sought a preliminary injunction against Warner Chilcott, which was enough to get it to back down from its agreement with Barr. Barr subsequently said that it would begin selling generic Ovcon tablets in the United States.

Barr is not off the hook. The FTC said it's going to keep pursuing a case against the company.

As for Warner Chilcott, a U.S. District Court judge approved a settlement this week that prohibits the company from dabbling in any similar anti-competitive practices in the future. The order lasts 10 years.

Anti-competitive practices obviously have an impact on consumer choice. Typically, though, they seem to involve battles between companies that seem somewhat removed from our everyday lives. I have to admit, in the
gripping prose of an FTC release--written to meet legal requirements--I, too, missed the import of the action.

But according to the FTC's Mitch Katz, the order means women now have access to a lower cost generic form of birth control. And that's good news.

By Annys Shin |  October 27, 2006; 9:48 AM ET Consumer News
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Comments

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I didn't realize the difference in price for the same birth control pills at different pharmacies. I had been getting my birth control at CVS because it is nearby. I was paying $39/pack (my insurance doesn't cover BC.) I called some other places to price birth control and Costco sells the same birth control for $21. Rite Aid sells it for $43. This knowledge will save me hundreds of dollars each year!

Posted by: Smart Consumer | October 27, 2006 9:17 AM

Smart Consumer: I thought health insurance did cover birth control. (It's been so long since I needed it I've forgotten if mine covered BC pills or not.) Does it cover prescriptions for Viagra? What about vasectomies? I think there is some kind of sex discrimination going on with your health insurance company.

Posted by: Southern Maryland | October 27, 2006 10:25 AM

It can depend on where you work. When I worked for the Archdiocese of Baltimore it was not covered because the Catholic Church is against birth control. It didn't matter that is was for a medical reason.

Posted by: Anonymous | October 27, 2006 10:42 AM

Yeah, a lot of health plans don't cover birth control. Many states require health plans that cover other meds to cover contraceptives, but not all states have those laws. Learn about your state: http://www.guttmacher.org/statecenter/index.html

Posted by: h3 | October 27, 2006 11:40 AM

My health insurance plan is Aetna, and they are horrible. I take Ovcon (for health reasons primarily, and not as contraception). With prescription
"coverage", it costs $46.89 a packet, and I am limited to when I can fill it. For example, if I want to fill it early to go on vacation, or perhaps fill early to skip the placebo week (and thus my period), I can't if I go through Aetna. I am only allowed to refill it 28 days after the previous refill (I hate how they limit your access to your own *$#%&* medication. Without this illustrious "coverage", it costs me $50 a month, which is $600 a year. It sucks. I would gladly purchase a generic.

Posted by: Lisa | October 27, 2006 12:03 PM

Unfortunately, my boss did not purchase the rider that covers birth control on our health insurance which is paid for by my work. I work in a small office in which only 2 of us are of child-bearing age, so he doesn't seem to see a need to pay for that coverage. I can't wait until I get married so I can switch to my fiancee's health insurance.

Posted by: Smart Consumer | October 27, 2006 12:25 PM

Can any of these women use Wal-mart? $4 or $5 per generic prescription that is now available in several states.

Posted by: K.C. | October 27, 2006 12:34 PM

In my business, I am required to complete an annual class which focuses on anti-competitive activity - things similar to drug companies paying one another off to keep prices high. But I've never understood how grocery stores escape the spirit of the law by allowing food product producers to "Buy Shelf Space" which effectively removes the competition from the shelf.
Here in Texas, Blue Bunny Yogurt was recently released. Because of price and quality, it went flying off the shelves. Recently, it's become almost impossible to find - crowded out by higher prices gelatin-filled products like Dannon and Yoplait. How can I get my Blue Bunny back?

Posted by: David | October 27, 2006 1:35 PM

I checked Wal-Mart's list of generic drugs that are priced at $5. Ovcon is not on the list, nor is any kind of birth control. The list is mostly antibiotics and anti-inflammatories.

Posted by: Lisa | October 27, 2006 2:57 PM

I had Aetna for 4 years, with two different jobs (in two different states since I moved) -- I used their mail order program and got 3 month's of OTC, then it's generic for $20 total. Never had a problem (of course I always ordered it when it said to). Not all Aetna's are bad! Also, ask your doctor for samples, that will save the paying out of pocket scenario if you are going on vacation or need to "skip the week".

Re. Wal-Mart, I'm sure the popular ones aren't included! Though it will be interesting.

And yes, if you have to pay cash, SHOP AROUND!! Even the same chain has different prices depending on locations.

Posted by: CPhT | October 27, 2006 3:02 PM

if your insurance doesn't cover your rx and you live in DC or montgomery county, get one of the free rx cards...the post just had an article about it http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/10/25/AR2006102500753.html you get money off whenever you pay full price for prescriptions. it covers birth control, too!

also, birth control/viagra/propecia and other drugs like them are considered "lifestyle drugs" so some insurance does not cover it. however, there are a few plans that cover viagra but not bc...hm...i wonder who thought of that!

Posted by: post reader | October 27, 2006 3:06 PM

I can't believe the number of people that willingly put chemicals in their bodies to alter the natural hormonal cycles of their reproductive system. And then many of the same only eat organic, etc. I'm sure they are not all informed about the side effects, like increased risk of stroke and heart attack while on the pill, and afterwards- decreased fertility, increased risk of breast cancer. Men would never take an oral birth control with those risks!
Natural family planning is over 99% effective, safe, non-chemical, zero side effects, and FREE!!

Posted by: NATURAL-BcIsHealthier | October 31, 2006 1:40 PM

That is just your opinion.. I use BC and I know all the side effects and watch myself and get checked out 2 times a year besides my yearly exam. It is very childish and uninformed of you to say all of us would not know the side effects.. you dont even know us.

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