Birth control tops health plan use, pharmacist keeps it accessible

    (Caitlin Dutt/AQ)

    Birth control is in the top spot on St. Thomas University’s student health plan usage, and the campus pharmacist says he’s dedicated to ensuring students have all the access they need.

    Numbers from the 2016-17 year show 499 students, or 54.6 per cent, of the 799 enroled in STU’s health plan use it to get birth control.

    The plan’s top four paid health claims, which account of 92 per cent of total claims, shows prescription drugs at number one with 78.3 per cent, or $112,357 of claims. Birth control accounts for $18,022 of it.

    Dr. Ayub Chishti runs the Campus Pharmacy in the University of New Brunswick Bookstore. He said he’s not surprised by those numbers considering the age demographic.

    “That’s part of university,” Chishti told The Aquinian.

    Matthew LeBlanc, vice-president administration of the STU Students’ Union, said he couldn’t be happier with how the university’s health plan is operating.

    “Adding birth control to the plan has increased the share of prescription drugs in the overall health plan,” LeBlanc said.

    Birth control is in the top spot on St. Thomas University’s student health plan usage. (Caitlin Dutt/AQ)

    “Yet we have balanced our premium-to-coverage ratio so that our reserves remain in our ideal range and our small-to-no surplus goal is getting hit dead-on.”

    However, LeBlanc said he’s had conversations with returning students who have ran into troubles obtaining a prescription when it runs past Aug. 31, as the plan runs from Sept. 1 to the end of the summer.

    LeBlanc said that’s one change STUSU will prioritize.

    “I will coordinate with the UNB pharmacist to ensure that students re-enrolling in our health plan will get their late-August prescriptions covered by their plan rather than their pockets,” he said.
    Chishti said he hasn’t dealt with any students who have had trouble accessing their prescriptions, but

    if it were to ever happen, he has no problem extending birth control refills.

    Not all pharmacists are comfortable doing that, he said, but he’s OK with it.

    “To me, nobody’s going to abuse birth control,” he said.

    “I always say, if somebody is on their last refill and they run into trouble in the sense that their doctor’s appointment is not until March and the last pill they’re taking is in February, don’t go without it. You just come here, we can extend it.”

    Dr. Ayub Chishti (left) runs the Campus Pharmacy in the University of New Brunswick Bookstore. (Caitlin Dutt/AQ)

    Chishti said about 15 to 20 per cent of people he talks to use birth control for many reasons besides preventing pregnancy. This is what makes going without it potentially dangerous.

    “Birth control is not just taken for birth control. If somebody’s on it for dysmenorrhea … if somebody is on it because it is a hormonal issue and the doctor needs to stop their period, [or] whether the birth control is used for acne … depending on what they’re taking the birth control for, the issue could be serious,” Chishti said.

    Chishti said resources like the health centre in UNB’s CC Jones Student Services Centre also exist so no one has to go without prescriptions or other medical attention.

    Staying protected

    Eye wear, eye exams and counselling round out the top four uses of STU’s paid health claims for students.

    Prescriptions drugs for HIV sits at 21.1 per cent of prescription drugs paid for, ADHD drugs account for 11.9 per cent, diabetes at an even 8 per cent and psoriasis at 7.6 per cent.

    There were 85 prescriptions filled for ADHD last year, 74 for depression and anxiety, 68 for diabetes and 42 for asthma.

    There are also 867 students enroled in the dental plan. An analysis of paid dental claims shows $36,222 for diagnostic and preventative procedures, $25,580 for restorative, $15,209 for major surgeries and $4,481 for endodontic and periodontic procedures.

    Account statements for the 2017-18 year show students who don’t opt out of either plan pay $217.52 for the health plan and $100 for the dental plan.

    Chishti advised students keep both plans regardless of other coverage, like that from their parents, because having two drugs plans means more benefits.

    “I say, ‘Well, why would you cancel it?’ You don’t pay anything at the drugstore,” he said.

    “Your parents plan may pay so much, but now you have 100 per cent coverage, so by paying $200, you reap the benefits.”

    Account statements for the 2017-18 year show students who don’t opt out of either plan pay $217.52 for the health plan and $100 for the dental plan.(Caitlin Dutt/AQ)

    For example, Chishti said just in the last week he’d met four or five students who cancelled their university plan. They needed access to an IUD, which costs up to $450 — and their parents’ plan didn’t cover a cent.

    LeBlanc is also the chair of Campus Trust, the organization that provides health insurance to students. He said STU students are lucky to have the plan they do.

    “St. Thomas University students have one of the best health plans in the Campus Trust, both in terms of coverage as well as financial balancing and sustainability,” he said in a message.

    “Excluding dental and eye wear and exams — all of which are consistently maxed out on any insurance plan across the country — our usage and cap rates indicate that students rarely if ever ‘run out’ of coverage.”

    Chishti said even if you don’t use all of it, it’s worth having.

    “You cannot have car insurance and hope to recover your $1,000 every year,” he said.

    The price is right

    But Dr. Chishti said many students will still go without their needs because of four main obstacles: they don’t think they can go right to the pharmacist, they don’t have access or think they need to access a doctor first, they think they need to go back home or to the original place they got their first prescription filled or they don’t have the money.

    This is only the second year the Campus Pharmacy has been operating, but Chishti hopes to keep helping students however he can.

    This includes price matching all items and waiving fees to file prescriptions and give injections or assessments.

    As for birth control, Chishti wants students to know they don’t need to spend more just to have a fancy brand name. It can be a matter of bringing a $38 prescription down to only $4 for the same result.

    Saving money and making things accessible is the name of his game.

    “Just because the doctor wrote you’ve got to have brand, [well,] you can have the generic as well,” Chishti said.

    “If you agree to it … It’s your right.”


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