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Obamacare saving women $1.4 billion on birth control

Before the health insurance reforms were signed into law, contraceptives represented 30 to 44 percent of total out-of-pocket healthcare spending.

By Stephen Feller
Obamacare saving women $1.4 billion on birth control
Under the Affordable Care Act, insurance companies are required to cover 100 percent of the cost of contractives. Photo: areeya_ann/Shutterstock

PHILADELPHIA, July 8 (UPI) -- Women are spending $1.4 billion less per year on birth control pills and have seen the cost of most other contraceptive methods decrease by at least two-thirds since the implementation of the Affordable Care Act in 2010, according to a recent study.

The ACA, or Obamacare, mandates that private health insurance plans cover contraceptives with no consumer cost sharing. Many women continue to have out-of-pocket costs, if they have plans that were grandfathered because they existed before the mandate or work for employers who opt out religious reasons.

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"Our study found that before the mandate's implementation, the cost of contraceptives for women using them represented a significant portion -- 30 to 44 percent -- of total out-of-pocket health care spending," said Nora Becker, a student in the Perelman School of Medicine and the department of Health Care Management and Economics in the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, in a press release.

Researchers reviewed 17.6 million monthly observations for 790,895 women between the ages of 13 and 45 from a prescriptions claims database of a large national insurer. They found that out-of-pocket costs for the pill fell from $32.74 in the first six months of 2012 to $20.37 in the first six months of 2013, a drop of 38 percent, and expenses for the intrauterine device, or IUD, fell from $262.38 to $84.30, a decline of 68 percent.

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Becker said that savings on oral contraception add up to about $1.4 billion when the average cost found by researchers is applied to the approximately 6.88 million privately insured women who use the pill.

The study also showed that spending is down 93 percent on emergency contraception,down 84 percent for diaphragms and cervical caps, down 72 percent for contraceptive implants and down 68 percent for the injection.

The ACA mandate applies to all private insurance plans, whether they are bought through the online health insurance exchanges or from an employer. Some plans were grandfathered in without the contraceptive requirement in 2010 when the law was signed but are gradually being phased out. As of 2013, 36 percent of insured workers had grandfathered plans, on which researchers place significant blame for continued out-of-pocket contraceptive costs.

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"It's possible that by decreasing out-of-pocket expenses, more women will use contraception, or switch to a longer-term method, but additional research is needed to determine both the socioeconomic and health effects for women," said Daniel Polsky, Ph.D., executive director of the Leonard Davis Institute of Health Economics and professor of Medicine in the Perelman School of Medicine, at the University of Pennsylvania. "In the long term, if we do in fact see an increase in the use of contraceptives, that could potentially lead to a lower overall fertility rate, and potentially increased economic opportunities for women and their families."

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The study is published in Health Affairs.

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