As we learned from our article on the fate of Planned Parenthood, women’s health issues spark intensely opinionated debates.
While the government's stance on Planned Parenthood funding is still up in the air, a definitive decision has been made regarding birth control: The Obama administration released new standards last week requiring health insurance plans to cover all FDA-approved forms of contraception, with no co-pay required.
The idea is to take a preventive approach to health problems rather than dealing with them after the fact. In addition to birth control, these other preventive services will now be provided by insurance companies free of charge: well-woman visits, HPV testing for women 30 and older, STI counseling, screening for gestational diabetes, breastfeeding support and supplies, and domestic violence screening and counseling.
Preventing unintended pregnancies would save the government more than $11 billion annually.
Why Is This Even Necessary?
As it turns out, getting all of the recommended preventive health measures for women can be pretty pricey—even if you have health insurance that shares the cost. According to the website Good, the average American woman spends 30 years trying to prevent pregnancy. Assuming an average co-pay between $15 and $50, a woman should expect to pay between $5,400 and $18,000 for birth control in her lifetime—and that’s with health insurance.
It's easy to say that using oral contraception or getting an IUD (also expensive) is a personal decision that women make, and they should live with the ramifications. But in reality, contraception—or the lack thereof—is a national matter because of the cost of unplanned pregnancies.
The National Cost of Unwanted Pregnancies
As we learned during the recent debt ceiling crisis, the U.S. government’s spending has spiraled out of control, and unwanted pregnancies add to that deficit. (For a summary of the debt ceiling crisis and what it means for you, click here.)
We're not saying that women who want to have babies shouldn't do so. But we are saying that unwanted pregnancies cost more than preventing them. In 2008, the cost of one Medicaid-covered birth was $12,613. In contrast, the per-woman cost for contraception that same year was $257, according to the New England Journal of Medicine. That’s a difference of $12,356. Two-thirds of unintended pregnancies are publicly funded; preventing unintended pregnancies would save the government over $11 billion annually.
In every case, having a baby is a serious financial responsibility, so every woman who decides to get pregnant should make sure she is financially able to take care of a child.
The Vicious Cycle—And How to Break It
It's not fair to label all parents of unplanned pregnancies irresponsible: Nearly half of all American pregnancies each year are unintended. In fact, one in every two women will have experienced an unplanned pregnancy by age 45.
Too often, the issue of contraception becomes a vicious cycle: For women who choose not to use any, cost is often a big factor. Similarly, women who have trouble paying for contraception are more likely to rely on a less effective option like condoms, as opposed to a highly successful (but more costly) one, like an IUD. And, of course, those are the women who are least equipped to deal with the outcome of a contraception failure.
And the costs go beyond dollars and cents: Mothers of unwanted pregnancies are more likely to seek late prenatal care (or not seek it out at all) and more likely to drink alcohol or smoke tobacco during pregnancy. The goal of the Affordable Care Act is both to reduce federal spending, and these new standards aim to create a society of healthier babies and mothers. That said, because of the hot-button nature of this act, conservative groups like the Family Research Council and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops have voiced their opposition to the new rules.
What the New Rules Mean for You
The new rules will take effect for insurance plans starting on or after August 1, 2012. If your plan operates by the calendar year, the rules will apply on January 1, 2013. Plans offered by some religious employers will be exempt.
One caveat: If you signed up for a health plan prior to the health care law that President Obama signed into effect in March, 2010, your plan may be able to avoid these changes because it was grandfathered in. But as time passes and insurers and employers modify their coverage, fewer and fewer plans will be exempt.
In short, we think that any measure that helps women and the government save money while also improving public health is a step forward, but we also understand that birth control is a controversial topic.
What do you think about the government's recent decision?