The case for giving teens same-day, long-lasting birth control

Considered the most effective contraception for adolescents, long-acting reversible contraception, or LARC, includes intrauterine contraceptives (IUCs) and implants. (Credit: Getty Images)

Providing adolescents who want birth control the ability to get a long-acting reversible contraceptive on the same day as their clinic visit could lead to significant cost savings for insurance providers, say researchers.

For the study in JAMA Network Open, the team worked to determine what the cost savings would be by providing same-day access to long-acting reversible contraception, from the perspective of insurance companies, in particular, Medicaid, to adolescents. Considered the most effective contraception for adolescents, long-acting reversible contraception, or LARC, includes intrauterine contraceptives (IUCs) and implants.

“Access matters, and any barrier to access means that fewer people will actually get to that finish line.”

According to Tracey A. Wilkinson, assistant professor of pediatrics at the Indiana University School of Medicine, the lack of clinics in Indiana offering same-day access to these contraceptives came as a surprise when she began her work in the state as a health services researcher.

“When I landed in Indiana, I quickly realized there were very few clinical sites providing same-day LARC. They are more expensive, but they are very effective, because they don’t require any user dependence in order to work,” Wilkinson says. “As I started to piece together what the barriers were, one of the biggest seemed to be cost.”

About $2,000 in savings per patient

Wilkinson says the research team set out to create a cost minimization model to determine the cost to an insurance company when a patient must return to the clinic for subsequent visits to receive their desired contraceptive.

Using data from previous studies, the group worked through all of the scenarios that could result from an adolescent seeking same-day LARC. With each step, the group calculated what the cost would be to the payer—looking into the cost of the device, the cost of delivering a baby, the cost of an annual visit, and so on.

“We thought about the typical young woman seeking contraception and drew a branching tree representing all of the things that might happen if she could or could not get it that day,” says coauthor and pediatrics professor Stephen M. Downs. “The research literature tells us how likely all of those things are, and we know from medical claims how much they cost. With the resulting tree, we can compare the average cost we’d expect if contraception is immediately available or not.”

Through their work, the group found that same-day LARC placement led to overall lower costs to the payer—$2,016 on average—compared with placement at a later visit—$4,133 on average. Additionally, they found that the numbers of unintended pregnancies and abortions decreased in association with providing same-day placement.

Health benefits of same-day LARC

Coauthor Brownsyne Tucker Edmonds, assistant dean for diversity affairs and an associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology, asserts that the practice of providing patients access to same-day LARC could improve health: “We know that LARC is highly effective at preventing unintended pregnancy. Unintended pregnancy is associated with poor pregnancy outcomes, such as premature birth, which is a leading cause of infant mortality.

“Seeing as unintended pregnancy, premature birth, and infant mortality disproportionately impact women and infants of color and low income populations, it stands to reason that by improving access to same-day LARC, Medicaid could not only cut costs, but could potentially also improve health disparities related to prematurity and infant mortality.”

In the paper, the researchers came up with four recommendations for state Medicaid officials from the data compiled through their study:

  • Provide bonus payments for clinicians to incentivize same-day contraceptive access. Doing so would overcome the reimbursement-to-cost differential that leads to the two-visit strategy and mitigate carrying-cost concerns.
  • Create a single, uniform reimbursement structure, preferably as a medical benefit, to mitigate some of the procedural delays that occur when a device has to be ordered for an individual patient as opposed to being used for any presenting patient.
  • Pursue a strategy to purchase LARC devices in bulk and distribute devices up front to clinics desiring to provide same-day LARC access.
  • Develop a policy whereby LARC devices that were ordered for a specific patient but ultimately unused after a certain time could be used for another patient.

Moving forward from the study, Wilkinson says she hopes the findings will help push the needle forward in helping provide access to same-day contraceptives of all kinds to patients when and if they need it.

“Access matters, and any barrier to access means that fewer people will actually get to that finish line,” Wilkinson says. “When you have people who desire contraception not being able to access it, the outcomes of all our communities are less than ideal. Planned pregnancies are healthier pregnancies, so having same-day access to all forms of contraception is vital.”

For the work, the researchers drew on their work as members of the School of Medicine’s Medicaid Medical Advisory Cabinet, a group of physicians who provide research-based policy advice to Indiana’s Office of Medicaid Policy and Planning.

Source: Indiana University