‘Bulk’ birth control cuts costs, unintended pregnancies

(Credit: Getty Images)

Giving women a year’s supply of birth control up front would support reproductive autonomy and be cost-effective, a new study reports.

Researchers used a mathematical model to demonstrate that reducing birth control refills would better allow female veterans to prevent undesired pregnancies. Further, the money saved on health care costs would more than outweigh the expense of providing birth control in larger quantities.

“Medication dispensing limits are thought to be cost-saving because you’re not wasting pills and medicines that people aren’t going to use,” says Colleen Judge-Golden, an MD, PhD student at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine and lead author of the paper in JAMA Internal Medicine.

Of women receiving birth control pills in three-month increments, 43 percent experience at least one gap between refills over the course of a year.

“Our analysis shows that concerns about wastage of contraceptive pills are overshadowed by the potential consequences of missed refills, and especially of unintended pregnancies.”

Veterans Administration data shows that 43 percent of women receiving three-month increments of birth control pills experience at least one gap between refills over the course of a year of use. Outside the VA, women who get a year’s worth of birth control pills up front experience fewer gaps, and ultimately, fewer unintended pregnancies.

Since the VA doesn’t yet offer the option of dispensing a 12-month supply, Judge-Golden analyzed how expensive such a program would be.

The researchers estimate that among the approximately 24,000 women receiving oral contraceptives from the VA, offering a year’s supply of pills would prevent 583 unintended pregnancies and save the VA about $2 million a year in prenatal, birth, and newborn care costs.

583 pregnancies prevented; $2.1 million saved on prenatal birth and newborn care costs
(Credit: U. Pittsburgh)

“We see extended contraceptive dispensing as a win-win,” Judge-Golden says, “promoting women’s health and women’s autonomy to use birth control as they decide, while also being economically sustainable for the VA.”

To date, 17 states and the District of Columbia have passed laws requiring insurers to cover a year’s supply of contraceptives. As the largest integrated American health system, the VA has an opportunity to deploy this evidence-based policy on a national scale, researchers say.

“This is a great opportunity for the VA to roll out this policy change on a national level and continue to be a leader and set an elevated standard for women’s health care,” says senior author director of the Center for Women’s Health Research and Innovation and associate director of the VA’s Center for Health Equity Research and Promotion.

The National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences funded the work. Additional authors are from the University of Pittsburgh and the Veterans Administration.

Source: University of Pittsburgh