Adventures In Crazy Birth Control Pricing

Rebecca experienced the wrath of the birth control pricing gods on a Walgreens visit, discovering that the generic version of her pill, Yaz, was suddenly more expensive than the name-brand version. She braved her insurer’s customer service hell to track down some answers but only got more confusion.

She writes:

I’ve been taking Yaz for several years. It’s pricey birth control but I have an endocrine disorder so it’s worth it. My copay is $35. I appreciate that it’s not more. Last month it was randomly $10. When I asked why the pharmacist at Walgreens told me that the pricey pill finally had a generic version. Great news! I run with it.

Tonight, I go to get my prescription and the generic costs $60. I am surprised. I ask why. Walgreens says that my insurance — Medco — sets the copay. There is nothing I can do. I ask if I got the regular Yaz if it would go back to being $35. They say, “Oh, of course not. It will cost much more to get the premium version. You’ll have to call them and ask.” I need the pills to take one tonight so I reluctantly pay. I dread the long phone call that will inevitably take place but I really would like to know why the price jumped $50 in a month.

I call the # on my insurance card–it’s the wrong one. All told it takes me about 30 minutes to get to human being that can help me. The Medco customer service rep explains that last month the generic was “Tier 1” and now it’s “Tier 3”. I have no idea what these terms mean and when I ask she has no real answer. I ask her to look it up and she says that the original version of Yaz is “Tier 2.” Meaning that the generic has been categorized as more expensive than the original. I laugh. I tell her that that seems absurd. She is unmoved. “I’ve seen stranger,” she says! She notes I will have to take it up with Walgreens for discouraging me to get the premium brand. At no point does she suggest that perhaps she should flag this issue or offer to escalate because, obviously, the entire point of generics is to save both of us money. I tell her, “So some sort of keystroke error on somebody’s part in your company cost me $50 this month.” She says nothing for a moment and then notes that it’s *that* odd for a generic to cost more than the original version of the pill!

So I hung up. And called Walgreens. Left a message but since I left with the pills I’m going to guess they are going to say the onus is on me to find out if the generic really is less expensive than the premium. Of course, Walgreens often stops carrying the premium brand after they get the generic in stock, in my experience. So now I guess I have to special request the non-generic? It’s crazy-making.

Rebecca said Walgreens eventually let her return the expensive pills so she could buy the cheaper ones.

What do you budget for birth control and what do you think is the most cost-effective way to go?