Tag Archives: Plan B

A Free Market Defense of Plan B Vending Machines

By Chris Gaarder and Hannah Oh

Here at the Claremont Independent, we aim to kindle meaningful discussion by introducing less commonly held views on a variety of campus issues. In his latest opinion piece, Harry Arnold ‘17 expresses his views on the promotion of Pomona’s Plan B vending machine and its negative moral and social implications. However, we argue that, from an economic standpoint, there is a strong free market case to be made in defense of vending machines that sell Plan B, among other medical supplies, on America’s college campuses.

Plan B is a prime example of the near-infinite problems bedeviling our nation’s health care market, particularly when it comes to drug policy. Medical vending machines exemplify the positive changes occurring in America’s healthcare landscape in spite of federal policy.

On the whole, drugs are far too expensive and inaccessible for the average consumer. Part of this is due to the elaborate regulations and bureaucratic red tape promulgated by the federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The high cost of getting a new drug approved by the FDA is outrageous. Forbes has determined that it costs, on average, $350 million to get a new drug through the FDA to the market. Who pays for that? It isn’t the drug companies. Instead, the cost is shifted onto consumers directly, or indirectly through higher insurance premiums and taxes to cover those on government-provided health insurance programs.

When Plan B first came out as an over-the-counter drug, it cost up to $90 and averaged around $50. How were those prices set? It’s hard to tell due to our country’s historical lack of price transparency and competition for medical goods and services. When you go to your pharmacist or your doctor, you pay whatever price they set. And the system is built against allowing consumers to shop around. With all the distortions and opacity in the healthcare market, these prices are often arbitrary and highly inflated. Some people don’t mind paying a higher price, but most price-conscious consumers would prefer to pay less.

Today we are in the midst of one of the first major shifts of market forces into healthcare. If allowed to continue, it could prove to be the best thing that ever happened to healthcare, and Corporate America is leading the way.

In recent years, big-box retail corporations have realized that there is serious money to be made in providing health care services and products, ranging from simple flu shots to a wide range of prescription drugs. Target, for example, utilizes its immense purchasing power, operating efficiency, and tight profit margin to deliver the same drugs as pharmacies and hospitals at a much lower price.

Transparent store prices breed competition on factors including price, quality, and convenience. Unlike with pharmacies and hospitals, consumers who buy drugs at chain stores, such as Target, Rite-Aid, or WalMart, are able to easily compare among the various providers to find the best price. On college campuses, vending machines provide yet another source of competition for over-the-counter drugs.

IMG_0526Vending machines for Plan B are an innovative way to provide around-the-clock access and competitive pricing. With vending machines, no direct intermediary is necessary for purchase. You simply insert money and receive your desired product, at any time of day (especially important given the time-sensitive nature of Plan B). Vending machines also provide college students a level of convenience similar to what big box retailers provide real-world consumers. Convenience is valuable itself, a non-monetary form of competition.

By providing emergency contraception via vending machines, colleges are more efficiently meeting student demand. The Pomona College administration did not invent the Plan B vending machine: the Associated Students of Pomona College (ASPC) played an integral role in introducing the concept and formalizing the final proposal. The desire for a vending machine that distributes Plan B arose from students concerned that the drug is not available at night or over the weekend. Student Health Services, the only Plan B provider on campus, is closed during those times. To address this shortcoming, Pomona students initiated a viable solution that won widespread support.

Students at Claremont McKenna College are only now engaging in a meaningful discussion about Pomona’s policy change, and that’s because of Harry’s article. His article promotes one of the many perspectives that exist among right-leaning students. His is more conservative, ours more libertarian.

The Claremont Independent staff remains divided on this issue, but we hope that, in any case, we are able to spark a thoughtful dialogue on campus, perhaps beyond Plan B, vending machines, and Skittles, that sheds further light on the morality of commoditizing emergency contraception, the social consequences of our college hookup culture, and the economic fundamentals behind improving student access.

You Want Some Plan B With Those Skittles?

On September 18th CMC students received an email glorifying a new vending machine in Pomona’s Walker Hall Lounge. The machine, which is accessible to students from all the 5Cs, is subtly located on the second floor of the lounge. While the machine does offer innocuous items such as Neosporin and aspirin, it also features a multitude of sexual health products, ranging from condoms and KY jelly to male vibrators. Most notably, students now have 24/7 access to the form of birth control known as Plan B, or the morning after pill.

5C students have long been able to purchase Plan B from the Student Health Center without having to schedule an appointment beforehand. However, college vending machines that dispense the morning after pill are a novel concept. Just over a year ago in January of 2013, the FDA permitted Shippensburg University in Pennsylvania to continue offering Plan B in vending machines on campus. Pomona College is very likely one of the few colleges in the country to offer this type of resource to students.

The Claremont Colleges are undoubtedly a melting pot for socially liberal causes. Last spring, Pitzer College Senate seriously debated adopting a resolution to permit public nudity on campus. This fall CMC shed its image as a LGBT “pariah” and now offers a gender-neutral housing option for students. The Queer Resource Center recently sponsored a “Kink 101 Workshop” that was held on September 27th. Suffice it to say that Pomona’s recent decision to institute a Plan B vending machine comes as no big surprise.

As a socially conservative student, I fundamentally disagree with all of the aforementioned policy changes, for both moral and religious reasons. However, this does not necessarily mean that I would blindly impose my personal beliefs on others and call for the abolition of these resources and events. I value individual liberty, and believe people should have the autonomy to govern their own lifestyles. However, I do take issue with CMC’s embrace of this latest liberal crusade.

The email from CMC’s Dean of Students Office introducing the vending machine was filled with bias. Whether it was the opening line of “I am pleased to announce another new resource available to you!” or the proclamation that “Pomona College has graciously opened up this resource to students from all of the colleges,” it was implicitly evident where DOS stood on the issue.

What was perhaps even more surprising was how the email casually included Plan B in the list of products available in the new vending machine. It was as if DOS was completely oblivious to the fact that offering products such as Plan B and vibrators was a drastic change in policy for any college.

The administration’s nonchalant introduction of the new Plan B vending machine is indicative of a larger problem that plagues college campuses: the voice of prudence and reason is too often compromised at the expense of the latest liberal social experiment. We should have a rigorous, meaningful discussion regarding such a drastic change in policy before it is prematurely declared to be a positive force on campus.

When a female makes the decision to use Plan B, she accepts the possibility that she is preventing a fertilized egg from being implanted on the uterine wall. Individuals who believe life begins at conception equate this to abortion, a viewpoint that was recently legitimized by the Supreme Court in the Hobby Lobby case.

The permanent and irreversible nature of using Plan B affords no room for regret. This means that students who view Plan B as a form of abortion (or eventually come to hold this view), yet decide to use it anyway, may potentially subject themselves to emotional distress in the future. This is not an unfathomable scenario, as one’s life-outlook is often radically different at age forty as opposed to age twenty.

Using Plan B also carries serious health considerations. The morning after pill is not a typical over-the-counter medication like Advil or Tylenol. It is a highly concentrated dose of hormones that can significantly alter a female’s menstrual cycle. Dr. David Grimes, who spoke before an FDA advisory committee in 2003, said that, “Repeated use of EC wreaks havoc on a woman’s cycle.”

The 24/7 access afforded by a vending machine is a dangerous proposition. The resulting effect is that students will no longer be bound by the time constraints of having to obtain Plan B from the Student Health Center or a local pharmacy. Assuming that most sexual activity occurs at night, students are usually forced to at least wait until the next morning to obtain and subsequently use Plan B. The instant accessibility of the vending machine will decrease the likelihood that students will consider the aforementioned consequences of using emergency contraception.

Regardless of whether you believe Plan B is morally permissible, the decision to use the morning after pill should not be made lightly. This is why a vending machine that dispenses Plan B is a disservice to students. It inherently trivializes what should be a very serious decision.

CMC’s decision to support Pomona’s new Plan B vending machine is more than just the college taking a firm stance on a highly divisive issue. CMC is compromising its students’ ability to make safe, informed choices regarding a serious health issue. But in the midst of all the kink workshops, calls for public nudity, and efforts to nullify gender classification, who has time to notice?