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Improving Birth Control Access Would Save the US $12 Billion a Year

That’s enough to cover the EPA's budget, and then some.

Susan  Rinkunas

Susan Rinkunas

Grant Taylor / Getty Images

If all of the women in the United States had access to the most effective methods of birth control, including long-acting IUDs and implants, the country would save $12 billion a year in healthcare costs. TWELVE! BILLION! DOLLARS! PER YEAR! For comparison, the Environmental Protection Agency's 2016 budget was $8.14 billion, which the Trump administration wants to cut to $6.1 billion.

That staggering figure comes from a new report published by Child Trends, a nonprofit research center, that specializes in child health and development. The researchers used results from a 2015 study which compared pregnancy rates among 1,500 patients at 20 Planned Parenthood clinics where staff had been trained to provide counseling on IUDs and implants and insert them versus 20 control clinics that provided standard care. They found that women who visited the clinics with the extra training were more likely to get IUDs or implants than women at the control clinics (28 percent versus 17 percent) and were less likely to get pregnant. Plus, the number of women at the "treatment" clinics who opted for hormonal methods like the pill, patch, or ring was 40 percent higher than in the general population (these are less effective than IUDs, but more effective than condoms or the pull-out method).

The authors at Child Trends took this data and plugged it into a model developed by The Brookings Institution called FamilyScape 3.0 to simulate what would happen if all American women not trying to get pregnant used the same types of contraception as the women in the treatment group (28 percent using IUDs and implants and so on). They determined that these levels of contraception use would lower unintended pregnancies by 64 percent, unintended births by 63 percent, and abortions by 67 percent. And would save the country that whopping $12 billion because of decreases in negative birth outcomes and maternal health outcomes.

It's certainly not the first study to find that effective contraception can reduce unintended pregnancies and abortions—a highly publicized project in Colorado saw similar outcomes—and we know from previous estimates that unintended pregnancies cost the US $21 billion a year, although Child Trends says the cost is more like $24.2 billion when scaled to 2015 dollars. But this report connects the effects of improved birth control usage on unintended pregnancy rates and public health costs nationwide.

The report was commissioned by the Planned Parenthood Action Fund, the political arm of the healthcare provider. Anti-choice groups love to refer to Planned Parenthood as an abortion business but the fact is that Planned Parenthood knows that the birth control it prescribes actually reduces the abortion rate. They knew that when they funded this research.

The report is well-timed given the debate over the Republican's Obamacare repeal bill, which would block Planned Parenthood from receiving Medicaid reimbursements for one year simply because some of its clinics offer abortion for reasons other than rape, incest, or to save the life of the mother. (They already can't use federal money for abortions outside of these cases because of the Hyde Amendment.)

The bill would increase funding for federally qualified health centers (FQHCs)—which are comprehensive health centers, not family planning specialists—and with more funding, these centers could get up to speed in time, but how long that would take is uncertain. The other issue is that in 103 counties, Planned Parenthood is the only safety-net health center so additional FQHCs would have to be built from scratch to serve Planned Parenthood's patients without making them travel farther.

Planned Parenthood centers specialize in family planning and are more likely to have the full range of contraceptive methods and offer same-day insertion of long-acting methods like IUDs than health departments and FQHCs. Plus, an investigation by Rewire found that some FQHCs exclude IUDs from their offerings because they wrongly believe that the devices cause abortion, while some don't offer contraception at all.

"We've made tremendous gains in this country with expanded access to birth control, and we must continue to build on that progress," Raegan McDonald-Mosley, an ob-gyn and chief medical officer of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said in a statement. "Too many people still face barriers to health care, especially young people, people of color, those who live in rural areas, and people with low incomes. We cannot let politicians in Congress take us backwards."  

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