Birth Control Pills for a Mere $9 a Month

The latest news on generic contraceptives, plus the patch and the vaginal ring.

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When it comes to choosing birth control, most women stick with what's working for them. But sometimes it might pay (literally) to switch: Kroger supermarket pharmacies this month began offering two generic oral contraceptives at a bargain price of just $9 for a 28-day pill pack. Kroger, located in about 30 states, gives discounts for generic versions of Ortho Cyclen and Ortho Tri-Cyclen. (The chain is also offering generic Clomid, an ovulation drug for infertility, for $9 a prescription, plus $4 prescriptions for hundreds of other generic drugs.) Wal-Mart pharmacies began offering the same discounts in 2006. I spend about $25 per month on my brand-name pills, so I'm tempted to make a switch given that I could save $192 a year—about the cost of that Coach purse I've been eyeing.

Of course, satisfaction with a particular method usually trumps price. A new study published in this month's issue of the journal Obstetrics & Gynecology compares two newer methods of contraception, the skin patch and vaginal ring, to see which one women like better. Both deliver the same hormones as the pill and are removed and replaced every month, but patch users were far more likely to be bothered by breast pain, nausea, and longer and more painful periods than were ring users. More than 70 percent of the 237 women who were randomly assigned to use the ring said they planned to continue using it, whereas nearly 75 percent of the 232 women assigned the patch said they would not. Though the study didn't compare the patch and ring with the pill, the authors write that previous research shows that at six months, only 40 percent of women say they'll keep using the pill and that "by the third month of use, up to half of women miss three or more pills per cycle," which ups their odds of pregnancy.

The patch also raises blood levels of estrogen more than the other two methods, according to the Food and Drug Administration, which could increase the risk of rare but dangerous blood clots. Meantime, neither patch nor ring comes cheap, because the brand-name products—Ortho Evra's Patch and Organon's NuvaRing—are still under patent; they retail for about $50 per month.