It Could Happen to You

You know those things you read about, injustices that get you all fired up but you think "Wow, I'm glad I've never seen that happen?" Here in Minnesota, we seem especially prone to this.

Lately, these kinds of issues have come up a lot. This month in particular, as part of the ongoing coverage of the "real" cost of healthcare, there has been a big honking deal made this month about the cost of birth control. Ongoing press coverage touts the fact that Target and Walmart offer birth control pill prescriptions for $9 a month, "less than the price of two beers at a Georgetown bar" according to NPR.

And I should know (Dad, this is where you might want to cease reading). I've been on Sprintec (the only birth control pill on the several hundred generic formulary that Target offers), for about 2 years. My doctor chose that prescription specifically because it was a generic  — though she thought it was $4 a month; the Target website is a little vague on this, calling it the "Target 4 dollar generic drug program" but then admitting that some items (such as the only birth control offered) is actually $9 and "These drugs may be priced higher in CA, HI, MN, MT, PA, RI, TN, WI, and WY."

Well, in any case I have been on it, and this is where the weird situation sets in. I called in today for a refill, only to get a call back about an hour later on my secondary number (the one listed in my profile as "Only call if  you can't get through on the first one.") I was actually home, so I answered it, only to hear a stammering man on the other end say that he was calling from Target pharmacy, and he was sorry, but they did not have any Sprintec in. When I asked when they would get it in, he put me on hold for a little, then came back to say it was not being provided by the supplier, it had not been available for weeks, and I should try back, maybe in May. I then asked if other Targets might have it, and he said no, they were all from the same supplier — and that in fact that supplier provided Sprintec for all of Minnesota, so no one else would have it either. When asked what he suggested I do, he did not have a good answer; there were no other birth control pills on the generic formula, and I would have to "visit my doctor" to switch anyway. "I'm sorry," ended the second pharmacist when I called back later in the day to see what my options were, "there's nothing we can do for you."

Cursing the fact that large chains had put small pharmacies mainly out of business while I and my hefty insurance co-pays stood idly by, I called Walgreen's, which does not stock Sprintec. A call to CVS, however, had better luck. The pharmacist who answered there said they had plenty in stock, and that she had not heard anything about any shortages of it. I went in and got my prescription; though it would have been dramatically more expensive originally, for some reason my high-deductible insurance covered 100% of it. I may have to rethink my relentless opposition to CVS.

I'm honestly confused by this. I've heard of times, with Target in particular, where they have "morally" refused to provide birth control pills — but I never thought it would happen to me (and I'm not exactly sure that that is the case, or at least the full case, here). Is it some weird conspiracy based on the media coverage earlier this month? If so, to what end? It just seems strange that they would "run out" for months and not let the people who depend on that medication know — I can't believe they would do that with a heart medication, for example.

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