FAQ: The Price of Birth Control (#priceofbc)

The Price of Birth Control Pills (#priceofbc) — Here’s a link to our interactive map!

How does it work? 

1) Click “Add Pharmacy.”
2) Let us know the address of your pharmacy and the price of the birth control you buy there.
3) If your pharmacy already has a pin, click on it and you can add your price.
4) You’re done! You’ve helped grow the #priceofbc database. Spread the word, and continue the conversation with us.

Why are you doing this?

Knowledge is power. Price varies a lot in the health care marketplace. This is one way of trying to make costs more clear to the average patient–like you.

No, really, why?

There’s all sorts of buzz about how to solve America’s health care crisis. Cost is a big part of that. We are interested what things cost in the health-care marketplace, and  sometimes that can be hard to see. Birth control pills, which many pay for out-of-pocket, offered a way to look at price.

Is this a shopping guide?

It’s not yet, but it could be.

We wanted to talk about prices, so we started with a map that shows how the price of a pharmaceutical can vary radically, not just from big-box store to local drugstore, but from block to block.

The second is to expand this map, with your help. Pitch in as we start to construct a database to help people make informed choices about buying. Add your info. Tell your sisters, your friends. Tell them to add their info.

Why did you choose these particular brands?

We had to limit our scope, but wanted to pick brands that a lot of people had used over the past several years. We did some research, and chose from the most popular brands of birth control pills. This project isn’t entirely comprehensive, but it’s a start. These pills together encompass about 45 percent of the oral contraceptive market, according to our research.

We found it striking that the cash price of one month of one of the popular brands could anywhere from $80 (the Costco in New Rochelle) to $105 (at a Brooklyn Rite-Aid) in the New York area, depending on the store. We were also surprised to learn that another popular generic, Tri-Sprintec, could cost $4, if purchased on the Target generic plan, but upwards of $30 in many places. And one common form costs $8 in Ankara, or $14 in Bangkok. Who knew?

Are you suggesting that we pick birth-control pills based on price?

We don’t give medical advice here at clearhealthcosts.com. Your medical decisions are up to you. But as the line between patient and consumer blurs, we do think people should put at least as much thought into buying health care products as they do into buying, say, a toaster.

The Institutes of Medicine recommended in July that birth-control pills be covered by insurance, so this doesn’t really matter, does it?

The IOM recommendation could be overturned. There is great opposition to such a policy in many quarters. Furthermore, we think it’s interesting that pharmacies can charge such wildly varying prices to individuals; perhaps drugmakers charge wildly varying prices to insurers.

Beyond that, a lot of people who are uninsured or on high-deductible plans won’t be affected by any inclusion of birth-control pills into their insurance plans.

I have something to say that doesn’t fit in a simple number. What should I do?

Send us an email at info [at] clearhealthcosts [dot] com. You could also tweet for our #priceofbc twitter feed, on the page. Send us a movie, write an essay, tell us about a conversation you had with your mother (or your daughter, or your grandmother) about the price of birth-control pills.

For example, when we were telling a friend about this, she said, “Hey, that’s interesting. I wondered why my daughter was asking for $70 a month for the pill.” We’d like to hear more stories like that.

Are you going to do more of this?

We’d like to, time and money permitting. Next up, we were thinking of wading into the wide world of anti-depressants. Does that sound useful? Is there something else that interests you more? Let us know.

What about the questions about the safety of Yaz?

We are concerned here with price, and how much it varies for the same product, as well as between products.

We’re not medical experts. If you have questions about any medication, you should talk to a medical professional. We are not promoting one brand over another, or making any kind of medical recommendations.

That said, it is a matter of public record that there have been reports that use of Yaz has been accompanied by health problems, and many lawsuits have ensued.

Many forms of birth control carry risks. We want to emphasize again: you should make informed decisions using the expertise of a medical professional.

Why didn’t you include online pharmacies?

While a lot of reputable pharmacies do mail-away or online business, there is also a vast and sketchy world of questionable sites with rock-bottom prices. Regulation of online shops is a lot looser than regulation of brick-and-mortar pharmacies, making navigation complex. We decided to leave that for another site, or another day.

Why didn’t you include the ring, condoms, IUD’s and all the other contraceptive devices?

That’s a lot of data collection, and apples-to-oranges comparisons, with the potential for granular detail. This was an easy way to compare apples to apples, on a product that is fairly widely used–oral contraceptives.

How did you collect the data?

We collected the initial information by phone and in person here in the New York area. Then we opened it to user submissions.

After we got done collecting the seed data, laboriously, we found a New York State Department of Health site with drug price lists, store by store. Oddly, the prices on this list vary from the prices we collected at the stores.

Also, we made this data collection device bigger than the New York area. We aren’t aware of drug-price databases like the New York one anywhere else; if you know of them, please let us know.

What else did you do with the data?

We save the data and calculate average costs to be shown on the map.  If you’re looking at the cost of Gianvi for people without insurance, for example, then each row on the table would show you the average cost across all purchases at that particular store.  At the bottom of the table, you would see the total weighted average across all stores where Gianvi was purchased without insurance.  The view changes depending on the zoom level on the map; the totals and stores shown are updated as you navigate.

What is a weighted average and why did you use it?

A weighted average is an average in which some data points contribute more to the average than others.  We weighted the store averages by how many purchases were made at each store in order to create the total average at the bottom of the table.  This better represents what people spend on the whole.  Consider a single purchase of Yaz at a very obscure expensive pharmacy.  If we used a regular average and didn’t take into consideration the number of purchases at each store, then this expensive store would make it seem like people spend more on Yaz overall than they actually do.  When in fact, it just happened that one person at one store did.  The weighted average gives a better sense of what people are actually spending.

How many data points do you have for each store?

Since the data points are submitted by users, the number of data points vary per store.  It’s reasonable to assume, for example, that more popular stores might have more data points than others.  When we get more user submissions, we’ll have a better idea of the distribution of data points across stores.

What happens when people supply data that doesn’t have an address?

We are working on a way to collect this information and put it on another place on the site.  For now, the map doesn’t accept pharmacies that don’t come with an address.

If you have a purchase that doesn’t come with a street address, we want it too, but please send it to our twitter #priceofbc or email us at info [at] clearhealthcosts [dot] com.

I supplied my information, but I don’t see it on the site. Why?

You don’t?! Ack. Let us know.

We are working on making this perfect; for right now, it’s very much a beta or experimental product, and it may be buggy. If you have a question or a problem,  e-mail us at info [at] clearhealthcosts [dot] com.