The paper, published today in JAMA Internal Medicine, used a mathematical model to demonstrate that reducing birth control refills would better allow female veterans to prevent undesired pregnancies, and the money saved on health care costs would more than outweigh the expense of providing birth control in larger quantities.
“Medication dispensing limits are thought to be cost-saving because you’re not wasting pills and medicines that people aren’t going to use,” said lead author Colleen Judge-Golden, an M.D., Ph.D. student at Pitt’s School of Medicine. “Our analysis shows that concerns about wastage of contraceptive pills are overshadowed by the potential consequences of missed refills, and especially of unintended pregnancies.”
VA data shows that 43% of women receiving three-month increments of birth control pills experience at least one gap between refills over the course of a year of use. Outside the VA, women who get a year’s worth of birth control pills up front experience fewer gaps, and ultimately, fewer unintended pregnancies.
The researchers estimate that among the approximately 24,000 women receiving oral contraceptives from the VA, offering a year’s supply of pills would prevent 583 unintended pregnancies and save the VA about $2 million a year in prenatal, birth and newborn care costs.
“We see extended contraceptive dispensing as a win-win,” said Judge-Golden, “promoting women’s health and women’s autonomy to use birth control as they decide, while also being economically sustainable for the VA.”
To date, 17 states and the District of Columbia have passed laws requiring insurers to cover a year’s supply of contraceptives. As the largest integrated American health system, the VA has an opportunity to deploy this evidence-based policy on a national scale.
“This is a great opportunity for the VA to roll out this policy change on a national level and continue to be a leader and set an elevated standard for women’s health care,” Borrero said.