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A 12-Month Supply of Birth Control Pills Cuts Costs and Unintended Pregnancies

Check whether you practice in a state that legally requires insurance to cover a 12-month supply of OCP.

Providing your patients 12 months’ worth of oral contraceptive pills (OCPs) upfront saves money. In addition, according to new research published in JAMA Internal Medicine, it is more successful at preventing unintended pregnancies than a standard three-month refill.

What Did the Study Find?

The study, led by Colleen Judge-Golden at the University of Pittsburgh, found that supplying 12 months of birth control pills to female veterans at the Veterans Affairs (VA) healthcare system saved $87.12 per patient or more than $2 million annually.

Following most US health protocols, the VA dispenses prescription medications, including OCPs, in three-month increments. Under this plan, VA data shows 43 percent of women experience, at a minimum, a seven-day gap between refills. If a woman misses two consecutive days of birth control, she has an increased risk of pregnancy. With a one-year supply, women experience fewer gaps and more consistent, improved protection.

The researchers found the primary source of cost savings was mitigating unintended pregnancies. Using a mathematical model based on 24,309 sexually active women who did not want to get pregnant for at least one year, they determined a 12-month supply would prevent an estimated 583 unintended pregnancies annually.

The study’s outcomes show that prescribing 12 months of contraceptive pills would support reproductive autonomy, help women meet their reproductive goals, and be economically feasible for the entire VA healthcare system.

Why Does the Study Matter?

Currently, 70% of women who use birth control receive a supply of three months or less, while only 15% receive more than six months’ worth, according to the Henry J. Kaiser Foundation. Seventeen states and the District of Columbia have passed laws mandating insurers to cover a 12-month supply.

But in an era where access to contraception is riddled with controversy and millions live in locations considered contraceptive deserts, many women’s contraceptive needs are not being met.

Skeptics believe switching to a one-year plan could weaken provider relationships because patients would not have to undergo a consultation every third month. In addition, a long-term prescription could place more power into the hands of the patient and result in medication wastage. However, Judge-Golden’s findings echo prior research highlighting the benefits of providing a one-year supply of birth control — lower costs and fewer unintended pregnancies and abortions.

The following is a list of states where insurers must currently cover a 12-month supply of contraceptive pills:

  1. California
  1. Colorado
  1. Connecticut
  1. Delaware
  1. District of Columbia
  1. Hawaii
  1. Illinois
  1. Maine
  1. Maryland*
  1. Massachusetts
  1. Nevada
  1. New Hampshire
  1. New York
  1. Oregon
  1. Rhode Island
  1. Vermont
  1. Virginia
  1. Washington

*Effective 2020.

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