Birth control in Florida more costly in low-income neighborhoods

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A study on drug pricing in Florida suggests that contraceptives cost more to consumers in low-income neighborhoods than in wealthier ones, but may create as many questions as it seeks to answer.

The study was released Monday at the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists’ annual meeting and reported at Huffington Post. It compared the pricing of seven commonly-used contraceptives and cross-referenced these costs across various counties with median household incomes from the 2010 census.

Data from MyFloridaRx.com, a website developed by then-Attorney General Charlie Crist and jointly administered by Attorney General Pam Bondi  and Florida’s Agency For Health Care Administration,  was analyzed by researchers from the University of Tennessee.

They found that nearly all contraceptives were more expensive in the low-income zip codes, and significantly so for two drugs.  Researchers did know the reason for the price discrepancies. 

Here are some factors for researchers to consider in follow-up analyses:

–  First, lower-income neighborhoods also have higher rates of uninsured.  While those with health insurance generally pay co-pays with insurance picking up the remainder, the uninsured shoulder the full cost of drugs.  More insured per capita may mean more drug utilization, which would mean greater profit margins for pharmacies, which could then respond with more competitive drug pricing.

–  Along those same lines, more affluent neighborhoods may have more pharmacies in proximity, which also could drive costs down.

–  Further, the study acknowledged that “uninsured consumers have access to, and regularly utilize, other options, including federally funded clinics that offer free birth control, or one that offers services on a sliding scale based on income.”  This means that pharmacies in lower-income neighborhoods may have less traffic per capita than more affluent neighborhoods — particularly for contraceptives, which can be attained through such clinics — thus driving up the cost for self-pay customers.

–  Finally, it would be interesting to compare disparities in birth control costs to another drug that is utilized by men and women alike.  The finding that birth control varies more greatly by neighborhood than do other types of drugs would make this study considerably more useful in terms of any commentary on women’s health.

Nevertheless, it is great to see Florida’s unique drug pricing website used for research, and the public nature of its data invites more studies to follow this one in doing so.