Women Now Spend Less on Birth Control, Thanks to Obamacare

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The average monthly price for prescription birth control pills declined by 38 percent within the first year the Affordable Care Act was put into place. REUTERS/Eric Gaillard

For some time, many women have declined to use safe and effective forms of birth control due to their high cost and the limited financial help they get from insurance providers. But a new report published Tuesday indicates these circumstances have changed since the rollout of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Now, women are spending significantly less thanks to a provision of the law that requires private health insurance plans to cover all preventive care; prescription birth control and related medical services — such as annual wellness check-ups at the gynecologist — fall into this category. 

The report, published in Health Affairs, finds that the average monthly price for prescription birth control pills declined by 38 percent within the first year of the law, while the cost for IUD insertion went down 68 percent in that time period. The law requires insurance companies to shoulder the entire cost of birth control pills, intrauterine devices (IUDs) and all other methods of contraception approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. 

“It turns out the law is doing exactly what the law says should be done,” says Nora Becker, an MD and PhD candidate at Perelman School of Medicine and the department of Health Care Management and Economics in the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania and lead author of the report. “I was surprised by the speed at which we've seen a drop in price.”

In the first six months after the 2012 rollout of certain provisions of the ACA, women paid an average $32.74 per month for the birth control pill compared to $20.37 in the first six months of 2013, according to the report. In addition, women looking to switch to the most popular “fix it and forget it” form of birth control — the IUD — enjoyed significant savings. According to the report, out-of-pocket costs for IUD insertion fell from $262.38 to $84.30 in the same year. 

The study also noted a decline in costs for other methods of effective, but less common forms of birth control. The price for emergency contraceptives declined by a whopping 93 percent. Women opting for cervical caps or diaphragms are paying about 84 percent less than before 2012. The cost for implants and injection declined by 72 percent and 68 percent, respectively. There was little change in the cost for the patch and the ring; both declined by less than 5 percent.

To evaluate the changing costs of contraceptives, Becker looked at a database of prescription claims from the largest national insurance company. (Under the terms of the data agreement, the authors were not permitted to disclose the name of the company.) The database accounted for 790,895 women ages 13 to 45 from all 50 states and the District of Columbia. All were enrolled in private health insurance for at least one month from 2008 to 2013. The data used to generate the report included some patients on health insurance plans that were grandfathered into the new mandate, and therefore not required to provide complete coverage, which is why the numbers indicated that many women are still shouldering at least some cost for their chosen contraceptive. 

Additionally, the data reflects the fact that insurance companies are not required to pay for all brands of common forms of contraceptives without cost-sharing. 

“Insurers are only required to cover one brand with zero cost-sharing. Some branded versions are still covered but with cost-sharing,” says Becker. “But there are still going to be women who say, ‘No, I really like the one brand I'm on so I’m going to stick with it.’”