Mapping The Cost of Birth Control Pills

Friday, May 03, 2013

Birth Control Pills (flickr user Amber B McN)

Why exactly do you pay what you pay for your health care services? The Brian Lehrer Show and Clear Health Costs are partnering to gather information -- and increase transparency -- about the cost of some common items and procedures. On today's show: Why do birth control pill prices vary so widelyJeanne Pinder, founder and CEO of Clear Health Costs, discusses the data her group collected, which the WNYC Data News team mapped below. And Dr. Raquel Dardik, gynecologist at the Joan H. Tisch Center for Women’s Health at NYU Langone, explains why prices vary so widely.

More about the cost of birth control pills at Clear Health Costs

Want to participate in our next health cost project? We're collecting data on the price of mammograms. Read more and submit your information here.


Next Project: The Price of Mammograms


Dr. Raquel Dardik and Jeanne Pinder

Comments [34]

Abi from Brooklyn

I take the generic form of Seasoninque, which I'm disappointed to see wasn't included in the data. The day I walked up to the pharmacy counter and the guy handed me my pills and said "you're all set, no copay, have a nice day", was one of the best days ever. When I did have to pay a copay it was around $100 for three months worth of pills, with insurance(Seasonique comes in three-month cycles so you only have periods four times a year). I was uninsured for a short period of time and it was closer to $200 (luckily I was able to get them subsidized, thank god for Planned Parenthood!). I was disappointed that they switched me to the generic, which came with more side effects, in order to get them for free, but it's definitely the lesser of two evils when compared to paying out of pocket.

May. 03 2013 01:24 PM
Elena from Astoria, NY

I'm surprised no one mentioned drug coupons you can find online and whether they are effective or not. I used a coupon from to cut the non insured price of Microgestin (the generic Loestrin) from $30 to $17. I'm not sure exactly how it works, but I'm glad that it does.

May. 03 2013 01:01 PM
gary from queens


the free market depends on patent protection. and there are lots of non-drug good and services at exorbitant prices in healthcare. But it is government intervention in healthcare that keeps prices high.

October 18, 2012 4:00 A.M.
Obama’s Profit Problem
It’s really the Left’s free-enterprise problem.
By Lee Habeeb & Mike Leven

John Stossel | Aug 26, 2009

Health-Care Competition
John Stossel | Jul 15, 2009

May. 03 2013 11:21 AM

B from UWS -- Bush removing the ability of the govt. (Medicare, etc.) to negotiate with Big Pharma, cut "free market principles" at the knees.

It seemed to be a move to protect Big Pharma in the case of Universal Health Care being implemented. Yet it seems to have been the first of many obfuscations and compromises that has resulted in the warping Obamacare into the worst of both worlds.

"Health Care" now continues to rely on employers to provide care to employees -- yet simultaneously grants citizens and employers powerful incentives to reduce hours, or pay (low) penalties, in order to skirt the responsibility of paying for this care.

As I recall, the one layer of transparency was supposed to be a public database, announced about 4 years ago, of procedural costs compiled by all major insurers and overseen by a govt. agency. Is this active yet? (I have not yet heard this segment, maybe it was covered).

May. 03 2013 10:36 AM
B.T. from Brooklyn

Thank you for disseminating this very important information about the wide variance in birth control pill costs. I just dropped off a prescription for a progestin-only pill at my local pharmacy. I shop there because 1) their prices are generally much lower than big name pharmacies even with insurance, and 2) I prefer patronizing local businesses. (I was unable to add my price to the map as the brand is not listed.)

In general, I find the health care marketplace problematic. If an uninsured individual pays out of pocket, her costs are generally much higher than if the person is insured (unless the person is very low income and qualifies for hospital-based "charity care"). Perhaps this will change in 2014 if the uninsured do tend to obtain health insurance? Of course, insurance companies have the power and $ to negotiate. Recently, one of my doctors billed my insurance $600 and the plan paid $170. We need a consumer advocacy membership organization that the uninsured can join to help negotiate rates.

May. 03 2013 10:36 AM
David from Fredericksburg, VA

The guest commented on the varying list prices for Mammograms. If providers lower their prices to be close to what insurance pays, the dirtbags then lower reimbursements even more.

My two biggest issues are what most of the public is blissfully unaware:
- Medicare freeloads & causes everyone else to pay higher prices to make up the difference.

- Insurance companies are obscene profit centers. Take a look at the salaries (including unbelievable bonuses & stock options) - you'll feel ill.

Obama care does NOTHING to address these issues. It's like putting a piece of duct tape on a leak in the Hoover Dam.

May. 03 2013 10:34 AM
carolina from brooklyn

Simple solution: DIAPHRAGM

- cheaper
- non-systemic

May. 03 2013 10:34 AM
gary from queens

If Brian Lehrer and his liberal colleagues at NPR and WNYC were not wedded to the theology of big, central government as savior, they would realize why products and services cost more when third parties pay the bills.

He even mentioned Sandra Fluke!!! People like her are the reason birth control is so expensive. The answer is right under his nose!!! Having third party payers will always drive up the price of a good or service. read my blog entry below.

You liberals are unbelievable!!! It's true----liberals really don't know economics!!

May. 03 2013 10:34 AM
carolita from NYC

This is why I switched to condoms after fifteen years of taking birth control pills. I began feeling like I was just giving my money away to the pharmaceutical industry. Also, the fifteen years of birth control pills was taking its toll and giving me problems I won't go into here. Suffice it to say I'd had quite enough. I told my boyfriend (and future boyfriends) that I'd paid quite enough for birth control over the last two decades, and it was their turn now. They could bring their own condoms or get another girifriend. You'd be surprised how that works. I never had any trouble from them.

May. 03 2013 10:32 AM
David from Fredericksburg, VA

Brian just stated that Medicare is not allowed to negotiate prices - true only for medications (part D).

For everything else, they simply declare what they're going to pay. The ABSURDLY low reimbursements are then offset by the rest of the patient population. Just another slimey hidden tax, one that falls heaviest on those with no insurance - they're expected to pay full fee.

May. 03 2013 10:29 AM
Elisa from Jackson Heights from Jackson Heights, Queens

I take Nuvaring, which is not on the map- it's not an oral medication. My medical plan has me paying $50 per three month supply via mail order, on the mail order site it says that my plan pays $186.70 for my three month supply so the drug total is 236.70. That same medication can be acquired at a Canadian based mail order pharmacy for $76.00 for a three month supply- no insurance, out of pocket cost.

May. 03 2013 10:29 AM
Janelle from Brooklyn

I'd also like to add that before I lost my health insurance, my bc pills were free since the beginning of 2013. Friends said it was because of the ACA. But I asked multiple pharmacists and doctors if this was true, and if it would continue to be free if I didn't have insurance, they had no idea what I was talking about. I was also using this birth control for reasons other than contraception so switching methods was not an option for me.

May. 03 2013 10:26 AM
B from UWS

I have a question for Jeanie Pinder. She has called birth control an "opaque" market. The premise, perhaps applicable to most health care, is that conditions obscure the operation of true market forces, that need to be reached and understood. I find this project very valuable. And yet I wonder if the premise is accurate. Is health care subject to market forces? It seems to me that upon every effort to subject health to market forces, it slips out from under market forces, and ends up looking like something else. Health care in socialized countries has been removed from market forces. And health care in the U.S. constantly slips out from under market forces. So maybe we reach the conclusion that health is not, and cannot be subject to market forces.

May. 03 2013 10:24 AM
J. from NJ

Brian had asked if some pharmacys may be "gouging". There definitely needs to be more transparency in medical pricing and I'm not a pharmacist but businesses are allowed to charge whatever they want. I don't consider a $1.75 cup of coffee at Starbucks being gouged even though I can get a $0.75 cup of coffee at a gas station. The fact that a medicine may be "needed" doesn't change the way the market works. The scientists who create the drug want to get paid, the truck drivers who deliver the drugs want to get paid, and the store owner who sells the drug wants to get paid -- no one is working for free. Though, I think transparency would alleviate much of the price imbalance and people can shop where they want.

May. 03 2013 10:23 AM

i paid for a $25 pharmacy membership at walgreens and my pills went from $30/month to $12. This is without insurance

May. 03 2013 10:23 AM
Lydia from Manhattan

I don't pay anything for my birth control since the Affordable Care Act... why do all these women have to pay so much??

May. 03 2013 10:22 AM
RJ from prospect hts

Please don't leave out insurance company rules depending on the contract: there are usually 3 different "tiers" in which the insurance company arbitrarily decides which Rx is in which tier and therefore which price level. Sometimes they will require precertification for Rx; sometimes, depending on the plan, they will pay only for generic. Some Rx are cheaper when it's mail order and then will be somewhat cheaper for several months or they are, by state law, controlled substances that are required to be monthly and therefore gotten at the local pharmacy.

Generic drugs can affect people differently for unknown reasons--there are reports on a number of Rx that people are affected differently so people taking generics should monitor their initial reactions carefully.

May. 03 2013 10:22 AM
Janelle from Brooklyn

I have had so much frustration due to birth control pills. After switching brands many times due to side effects, I finally had decent results with Lo Loestrin, a brand name that I'm told has no generic equivalent yet. Last month I lost my health insurance and went to purchase it over the counter at Rite-Aid. I had called ahead to ask what the over-the-counter cost would be and was told (by a pharmacist or technician, I'm not sure) that it should be about $90. When I went to pick it up, it cost $127.99.

May. 03 2013 10:22 AM

The non-disclosure of fees and the wide variance in costs is why the US Healthcare bill is 17% of GDP versus the 10.5-14% of GDP for other developed nations. We are being ripped off. Charged more for the same stuff. The cure for this is more information about the costs up front...but good luck trying to get hospitals, providers and insurance companies to put all of their costs online so we can make a rational consumer decisions!

May. 03 2013 10:21 AM
Michelle from Long Island City

Following up on the caller's question, which was not answered: Please clarify whether all birth control pills will be covered without copay under Obamacare. This is what women were told in the media coverage and there appears to be much confusion over the extent of this reform.

May. 03 2013 10:20 AM

Ed, why should we pay for your meds? Why do you think men's anatomy is the default?

I guess I'm not surprised you're trolling in this topic.

May. 03 2013 10:19 AM

When I was on the pill, my insurance offered birth control pills for 33% less if you ordered them through the mail in 3-month packs. I have an IUD now and it's great! One up-front cost (as much as $1300 if you don't have insurance, but I lucked out and just had to pay an office visit copay) and then I don't have to worry about it again for seven more years.

May. 03 2013 10:19 AM
RJ from Chelsea

Although generics have the same active ingredients, can the inactive ingredients affect the user of the medication? My wife took a generic version in the past, and it made her woozy, but the prescription did not.

May. 03 2013 10:18 AM
katie from brooklyn

I take mircrogestin FE, which I think is a Loestrin generic. I used to pay $10, and on my current insurance I pay nothing at Kings Pharmacy in Brooklyn.

May. 03 2013 10:17 AM
gary from queens

Whether it was Blue Cross-Blue Shield yesterday, or Medicare-Medicaid today, or Obamacare tomorrow, when someone else pays, costs always go up. They go up because insurance short-circuits market pressures that keeps prices low and quality high.

Perhaps the best column that explains this is John Stossel's piece in 2009: "Insurance Is No Answer"

"Patients rarely even ask what anything costs. Doctors often don't know. Often nobody even gives a damn. Patients rarely ask, "Is that MRI really necessary? Is there a cheaper place?"

Stossel then gave examples in medicine where most patients pay out of pocket, like plastic surgery and Lasik eye surgery, in which prices have gone down by 30 percent and service continues to improve.

The tradeoff is justified for catastrophic illnesses----in which the costs are inherently prohibitive. The way we insure our autos for collision, but not for tune-ups or oil changes. If we bought insurance for bananas, no one would bother walking an extra block for cheaper bananas, because price is incidental when a third party is paying for it. And if you live in that society and do not have banana insurance, you'll find yourself paying $7 for a pound bananas---out of pocket.

That is why contraceptives are so expensive now. What will be next, insurance for mouthwash and dental floss?!

Today, Stossel says, "premiums come out of our salaries, but insurers are accountable to our bosses, not to us." Obamacare will just replace private insurers with government control, then eventually just government insurers.

But "community rating" is fair you say? No more cruel "discrimination" against people who have a preexisting condition, obese people or smokers? "Yet that defeats insurance company's best price-dampening tool: Risk-based pricing encourages people to take better care of themselves, just as car-insurance companies reward good drivers." If you force auto insurers to replace your broken windshield BEFORE you buy their insurance, you'll see the price of windshields explode like healthcare prices have. "Community rating" hides the cost of healthcare."

May. 03 2013 10:16 AM
Amy from Manhattan

It sounds as if the price for the same birth control pills varies even w/health insurance, but doesn't the insurance co. set the copay (& deductible if applicable)?

May. 03 2013 10:16 AM
Danielle Jensen

Don't forget that a womanneeds a doctor's prescription for birth control pills.
That needs to be considered in the cost particularly if she has no insurance. There was a recent oped in the times
speaking to this issue and supporting making birth control pills over the counter.

May. 03 2013 10:16 AM
Christine from Westchester

The company I work for makes them available for no charge. The used to make Viagra available but had co-pay for contraception and the women in this company campaigned for the coverage. It seems to me it benefits the company to have the women who work here well-covered for this. I think it was a smart move on their part.

May. 03 2013 10:15 AM

my girlfriend has a friend from europe buy her a years worth of birth control pills over the counter for 100 dollars. with her insurance currently it would cost her 40 a month here in new york

May. 03 2013 10:12 AM
Christine from Westchester

Ed: contraception is a wonderful thing. People should be able to choose if and when to have children. I agree that forcing others to pay for everyone else's birth control is an issue (isn't that what Planned Parenthood is for?) but using contraception prevents abortions and is does far more good than you seem to comprehend. I'm very pro-life, but the right way to be pro-life is to make sure birth control is reasonabily prices and available.

May. 03 2013 10:07 AM
laura miller from north bergen

Reportedly at least a quarter of all women on the pill are on it for medical reasons other than birth control, such as to reduce the excessive bleeding caused by uterine fibroids which leads to debilitating anemia. For some women, the pill may help manage a health condition to preserve their fertility rather than having to resort to surgeries impairing or eliminating their ability to have children. Several years on the pill has also been consistently shown to significantly reduce the risk of ovarian cancer. It is time we stopped treating female reproductive health only through the narrow lens of sex and saw affordable access to the pill as a core part of comprehensive health care.

May. 03 2013 10:01 AM
Gabriel Levitt from Brooklyn, NY

The cost of birth control pills varies greatly, not only from pharmacy to pharmacy in the U.S. but internationally as well. Some Americans, especially the uninsured and underinsured, go online to find more affordable medication from Canada and other countries, including birth control pills. Buying meds outside the U.S. is technically illegal but not prosecuted by the FDA. There are two important reasons for caution: 1) many pharmacy websites are dangerous and 2) while birth control pills are often cheaper in Canada and other foreign countries, such as with Yaz, it’s not always the case, such as with Loestrin.

To avoid rogue sites, you can compare prices among real licensed pharmacies online at

Gabriel Levitt

May. 03 2013 10:00 AM
Ed from Larchmont

Also we can see that it's so expensive that those who oppose it have to be forced to pay for it for others.

May. 03 2013 08:46 AM
Ed from Larchmont

The real cost of birth control pills is the physical toll it takes on a woman's physical and psychological health. See Janet Smith 'Contraception: why not.'

May. 03 2013 08:45 AM

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