A Zero-Cost Way to Reduce Unintended Pregnancy

Today is World Contraception Day and many are writing about the challenges to birth control access, which are numerous, complex and vary from nation to nation. But researchers have recently identified a simple change that could make a significant difference in preventing unintended pregnancy here in the U.S.

Most U.S. health insurance plans limit the amount of birth control pills that can be prescribed at a time, usually to a three-month supply. A recent study in the journal Obstetrics & Gynecology suggests that prescribing a longer-lasting supply may help women better adhere to their birth control regimen.

In a clinical trial, researchers randomly assigned 661 women of various ages at a New York family planning clinic to receive either three- or seven-month supplies of birth control pills. After six months, 51 percent of women who received the seven-month supply of birth control pills were still taking them, compared to only 35 percent of women who received a three-month supply. The idea that a longer-lasting supply would improve adherence may sound like common sense, but research backing the claim is necessary to convince insurers to change their coverage policies.

The three-month limit was originally intended to make women visit the doctor more frequently thereby increasing the chance that physicians would catch any potential side effects of the pill, like high blood pressure. However, “running out of pills” is one of the most common reasons women cite for going off the Pill, according to Reuters.

Though this particular study did not make the connection explicitly, it stands to reason that giving longer-lasting supplies could translate into a reduction in the number of unintended pregnancies in the US. A different study published earlier this year found that that women in California’s Medi-Cal program given a year’s supply of birth control pills were less likely to have an unplanned pregnancy than those given one-to-three-month supplies.

That makes sense: Running out of pills can cause women miss or skip a day or two or more, which reduces the effectiveness of the Pill in preventing pregnancy. Longer supplies could help the growing numbers of uninsured or underinsured women who can’t cover the cost of a doctor’s visit every three months. They could also provide a safety net for women who unexpectedly lose their jobs and thus their health insurance coverage, and have not budgeted for the full out-of-pocket prescription price (which can be as much as $180 for a three-month supply). In this economy, that is a very real concern.

With funding cuts reducing women’s access to contraception in the U.S. and globally, it’s exciting that simply giving U.S. women longer-lasting supplies of birth control could reduce unwanted pregnancy–at no cost. Let’s hope insurance companies take heed.

Picture from Flickr user Starbooze under Creative Commons 2.0.


Leah Berkenwald is the online communications and social media specialist at the Jewish Women's Archive and editor of the Jewesses with Attitude blog. With a background in American Studies and Journalism, Leah is currently studying Health Communication at Emerson College in Boston, MA. She is particularly passionate about sexual health issues, despite her father’s plea that she do something less controversial like "save the whales."