For the past six years, the state of Colorado has been launching a remarkable birth control initiative known as the Colorado Family Planning Initiative. Beginning in 2009, they offered free intrauterine devices (IUDs) at little to no cost for any woman who wanted one. The results are astounding: Not only did 30,000 women take advantage of the initiative but also, throughout the years of the experiment, teen births dropped 40% and abortions dropped 35%.
In addition to the staggering decrease in teen births and abortions, the amount of women using IUDs increased greatly as compared to the rest of the country. Today, 20% of women age 18-44 in Colorado use IUDs as opposed to just 7% of women nationwide from 2011 to 2013. Additionally, the Adolescent Family Planning Clinic at Children’s Hospital Colorado gave out over 2,000 long acting birth control devices in 2013 as opposed to just 30 a year in 2009.
The initiative also managed to actually save the state of Colorado money. The Department of Public Health and Environment estimated that for every dollar spent on the program, Colorado saved $5.85 in Medicaid costs. This leads to a grand total of between $49-111 million saved.
The segment of the population most affected by this initiative was women residing in the poorest areas of Colorado, such as Walsenburg. This is not surprising, seeing as low-income women are often the largest beneficiaries of efforts to expand access to family planning. When the experiment began in 2009, half of all first births in the state came from women who were under 21. By 2015, this average jumped to age 24. Delaying the age in which a woman has her first child enables more time and energy to be spent on education and careers.
If greater access to long-acting contraceptives was so widely utilized, so greatly effective in decreasing the teen birth and abortion rates especially for low-income women, and managed to save the state money, why isn’t this repeated on a larger and more permanent scale? Well, the short answer is that it’s supposed to be. The Affordable Care Act requires health insurance companies to cover one form of all birth control methods. This includes the pill, patch, ring, and IUDs. Yet recent reports revealed that several companies are not covering all of the forms, forcing women to pay out of their pocket in order to obtain the birth control method that works best for them. This means that women who cannot afford to pay for their preferred method are out of luck.
In response to these reports, the Obama administration put out a notice to health insurance companies reiterating that they must adhere to the coverage guidelines. Unfortunately, a bill proposed by U.S. senators Corey Gardner and Kelly Ayotte aims to make birth control available over the counter. While this may make obtaining birth control more convenient, it will enable health insurance companies to continue to avoid covering contraceptives because the ACA only requires coverage on birth control obtained with a prescription.
We need to be focusing on making all forms of contraception, especially long-acting contraception, affordable and accessible for all women in order to receive results that were seen in Colorado. With these results, there is no justification for health insurance companies not covering birth control or for legislators scheming to take away coverage.
Cover image courtesy of Shutterstock.