By Zach Stone, Communications & Community Engagement Coordinator

On Tuesday, April 28th, 2015, Colorado received a prestigious award from The National Family Planning and Reproductive Health Association for the state’s astonishingly successful “Colorado Family Planning Initiative.” This program dramatically reduced unintended pregnancies and abortions in the state by expanding women’s access to the most effective birth control methods. On Wednesday, April 29th, 2015, a Colorado Senate committee killed an effort that would have provided funding to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment to continue Colorado’s award winning program.

I know Judy, I know. But do not despair, oh arbiter of sweet reality TV justice! Just last week, the Colorado state Senate righted its wrong by backing funding for the Colorado Family Planning Initiative for this upcoming year. $2.5 million in funding for the program is included in the state budget, which is now on its way to conference committee to negotiate the discrepancies in the House and Senate versions.    

LARC and the ACA

The Colorado Family Planning Initiative educates providers and increases access to long-acting reversible contraception (LARC), such as intrauterine devices (IUD’s) and implants. These methods are inserted by health care professionals, and can function for up to 10 years to prevent pregnancy. Because LARCs don’t require any work on the part of the user, they are significantly more effective than other types of birth control. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, LARC is 20 times more effective at preventing pregnancy than the most popular contraceptive method, the birth control pill.

While LARCs can save the state significant money in the long-term by reducing unintended pregnancies and abortions, they are expensive on the front-end. Theoretically, this shouldn’t impact consumers, as the Affordable Care Act mandates that health insurance companies cover at least one form of all FDA approved contraceptives at no cost. However, in practice, some insurers don’t cover LARCs because of their cost, pointing to federal rules that allow health plans to use “reasonable medical management techniques” to pick which contraceptives to cover when multiple contraceptive methods are deemed medically appropriate for an individual. The Colorado Family Planning Initiative helps remove this financial barrier to LARC by providing IUD’s and implants to low-income women for little to no cost.

The Colorado Family Planning Initiative also helps to serve women who fall into coverage gaps and those who have concerns using their private health plan to access LARC. While the ACA has dramatically cut the uninsured rate nation-wide and raised the bar for what plans must cover, some consumers have still fallen through the cracks. The Colorado Family Planning helps provide LARC to women in these coverage gaps, such as women who fall into the “family glitch” and can’t afford the full cost of coverage on the exchange, and women in “grandfathered” health plans that are exempt from many of the ACA’s requirements. Additionally, the program helps to serve women that may not want to use their private plan to access LARC due to confidentiality concerns.

A Proven Record of Success

With the Colorado Family Planning Initiative funded, we can expect it to make a real impact. Indeed, the program has a proven record of success: Between 2009 and 2014, both the birth rate and the abortion rate fell a whopping 48% among Colorado women age 15-19 as a result of the program. During the same time frame, the number of teens giving birth for the second or third time dropped by 58%.

These dramatic reductions in the birth rate save Colorado money by decreasing the demand for other state-funded programs. In 2014, Colorado’s family planning program spent an average of $404 per patient for a family planning visit. That expense is dwarfed by the cost of an average Medicaid birth, which is more than $11,500 per woman.

The numbers are clear-cut: Colorado wins when it enables women to choose the method of birth control that works best for them. By expanding access to LARC, the Colorado Family Planning Initiative makes this option a reality for thousands of women in our state. Last year, the Colorado legislature erred when it killed an effort to invest in this data-proven, successful program. Thankfully, they righted their wrong this year.

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