Population Matters

Contraception is Prevention: At Home and Abroad

July 25th, 2011

Last week, the Institute of Medicine (IOM) released a report recommending that health insurance plans should include contraceptives at no cost to patients.  This “historic” report, as HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius termed it, looks at contraception as a basic preventative public health measure.  The preventative benefits are straightforward: fewer unintended pregnancies improve infant and maternal outcomes.

Short birth-to-pregnancy intervals (under 2 years) are associated with a significantly increased risk of negative health outcomes including miscarriages, stillbirths, preterm births, and both higher infant and maternal mortality.  With nearly half of all pregnancies in the United States unwanted or unintended, it should come as no surprise that the country suffers from lagging infant and maternal mortality rates.

Even as one of the wealthiest countries in the world, the United States ranks below the vast majority of developed nations in both maternal and infant mortality.  Infant mortality rates in the US are comparable to those of Bahrain and Belarus and below those of countries such as Hungary, Poland, and Slovakia.  Ranked 28th in the world, the United States falls behind countries such as Slovenia, Estonia, the Czech Republic, Cyprus, and Cuba.  As for maternal mortality, the United States ranks 41st in the world according to a WHO report.

The United States also struggles with high adolescent birth rates.  Adolescent birth rates are dramatically higher in the U.S. than in other developed countries—a disparity attributed in part to the fact that birth control methods are easier and cheaper to get in these other countries.  Among sexually active teens in the United States, only 61% use some form of birth control compared to 80% in Sweden and 88% in the U.K. and France.  While these low rates of contraception in the U.S. stem in part from lack of individual ability or willingness to pay (especially for the longer-term, more effective options,) these low rates ultimately dramatically increase the financial burden on society.

From a global perspective, a report by the Guttmacher Institute and the UNFPA found that combining maternal and newborn health services AND fulfilling the unmet need for family planning would yield $1.5 billion in savings.  Fulfilling the current global unmet need would lower the cost of maternal and newborn health services by $5.1 billion.

As the U.S. already spends large amounts of money on maternal and newborn health care ($86 billion), reducing the unmet need for family planning within the United States would be expected to yield sizable financial savings.  In fact, the CDC estimates that pregnancies among adolescent girls cost U.S. taxpayers $9 billion per year.  Overall, according to the Guttmacher Institute, U.S. taxpayers spend around $11 billion per year on unintended pregnancies.

In this economically trying time, saving money while improving health seems almost too good to be true.  But if Secretary Sebelius accepts and incorporates these IOM recommendations into insurance regulations, insurance companies will start covering this vitally important preventative care, and both money and lives will be saved.  As Congress continues to look for ways to cut spending, doesn’t it make sense to protect items that actually save money both at home and abroad?

Lack of access to family planning is a global problem.  Women in the U.S. need improved access, not just women in the developing world.  Tell Congress that women everywhere should have access to family planning and reproductive health care.  Sign the Million for a Billion petition at: http://www.millionforabillion.com.

Posted by Hannah Ellison, Public Policy Fellow

One Response to “Contraception is Prevention: At Home and Abroad”

  1. Steven Earl Salmony Says:

    With thanks to Andy R…….

    A New Look at Population Bombs and Bulges


    A fresh look at humanity’s cresting growth spurt and its implications, for good or ill.

Leave a Reply