A new study has found that the Affordable Care Act created an immediate drop in out-of-pocket birth control costs for women. The authors saw costs decrease for almost all reversible birth control methods, an average of around $250 per person per year. And that’s even with some health insurance companies still illegally charging patients for birth control.

The ACA requires that health insurance companies cover FDA-approved birth control methods without requiring cost-sharing from patients (some insurers, as we’ve written previously, are exploiting a loophole by only covering one or two birth specific types of birth control per category). This new study, which we saw via the Huffington Post, was written by Nora V. Becker and Daniel Polsky, was published in the current issue of Health Affairs.

Becker and Polsky looked at a claims database from a large national insurer—they don’t say which one—examining the claims of nearly 800,000 women aged 13 to 45. They focused on claims for birth control pills and IUDs, the two most commonly used methods in the U.S., and found that out-of-pocket expenses fell noticeably for both methods in just one year:

The average adjusted out-of-pocket expense for a pill prescription fell from $33.58 in June 2012 to $19.84 in June 2013, and the out-of-pocket expense for an IUD insertion fell from $293.28 to $145.24.

Out-of-pocket prescriptions costs fell to “almost zero” over time, the authors found, suggesting “that while some women were still paying large amounts out of pocket for their contraception, the majority of women were paying nothing by June 2013.” And spending on emergency contraception also sharply decreased, a detail that future studies will probably want to examine:

From June 2012 to June 2013 the mean out-of-pocket expense for the pill declined by 38 percent, and the mean out-of-pocket expense for an IUD declined by 68 percent. We also found decreases in spending for emergency contraception (93 percent), diaphragms or cervical caps (84 percent), the implant (72 percent), and the injection (68 percent). In contrast, spending for the ring and the patch declined only 2 percent and 3 percent, respectively, over this period.

Median out-of-pocket per prescription spending fell to zero for almost all prescription contraceptive methods following implementation of the ACA mandate. This suggests that while some women were still paying large amountsout of pocket for their contraception, the majority of women were paying nothing by June 2013. The ring and the patch were the exceptions: Their mean and median out-of-pocket expenses remained similar during this time period.

Overall, Becker and Polsky estimate that insured women saved $1.4 billion in costs relating just to the pill. They say it’s too early to estimate what the ACA’s long-term effects will be on women’s health care costs, or how their health and socioeconomic status will be affected long-term. But they predict there might be a rise in the number of people using long-term birth control methods like IUDs, which previously had high up-front costs and now—as soon as everyone starts following the law—will be affordable for everyone.

Progress. Actual progress on a pressing social issue. Who would’ve ever thought?


Contact the author at anna.merlan@jezebel.com.
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