Contraception is basic preventive health care for women — a simple truth that is too often lost in our national political discourse. To put facts squarely back into the debate, Guttmacher is launching a short, animated video titled “Benefits of Contraceptive Use in the United States.” The video highlights that proper timing and spacing of births leads to healthier pregnancies; that contraception, when used consistently, is highly effective at preventing unintended pregnancy; and that cost can be a barrier to a woman using the contraceptive method that’s right for her.
The video is timely, too, as new insurance coverage requirements under the Affordable Care Act are taking effect this week: Specifically, most private health plans written on or after August 1 will cover a range of women’s preventive health services—including contraceptive counseling and all FDA-approved contraceptive methods—without additional out-of-pocket costs to patients. Large numbers of women and couples will likely start benefiting in January 2013, when the new plan year for many health insurance policies takes effect.
This contraceptive coverage guarantee is a significant gain for women’s health for a number of reasons.
• Contraception improves the health of women and babies: Contraceptive use helps women avoid unintended pregnancies and empowers them to time and space their births. This in turn has substantial health benefits, including that women whose pregnancies are planned are more likely to seek and receive prenatal care; that they are less likely to smoke and drink while pregnant; and that they are more likely to breast-feed once their baby is born.
• Contraceptive use is highly effective: The two-thirds of women who use contraceptives consistently and correctly account for only 5% of all unintended pregnancies each year. The much smaller groups who use contraceptives inconsistently (19%) or not at all (16%) account for 95% of unintended pregnancies in the United States—and the abortions that often follow. These statistics underscore how crucially important it is to make it easier for every woman to get and use the contraceptive method that’s right for her.
• Contraceptive use is virtually universal in the United States and is the norm among women of all religions: Some 99% of women of reproductive age who have ever had sexual intercourse have used contraceptives, including 98% of Catholic women. That’s why making contraception easier to get and use benefits all women.
• The high cost of some contraceptive methods can be a deterrent to effective contraceptive use: Even for a woman who has good insurance coverage, the cost of copays and deductibles can be a deterrent to choice of the contraceptive method that would work best for her. Cost-sharing for the pill can reach hundreds of dollars a year, and upfront costs for the most effective methods—like the long-acting IUD and implant—can be even higher. Eliminating these out-of-pocket costs gives women the ability to shift to more effective methods, including ones like the IUD that virtually eliminate user error (which can be a factor for methods like the pill or the condom). The impact on women’s ability to plan the pregnancies they want—and prevent the ones they don’t—could be substantial.
The Affordable Care Act brings real and immediate change to women’s lives. It represents a hard-fought victory and one worth celebrating.