Health

Has Obamacare Contributed To A New Spike In Contraceptive Use?

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More women than ever are using long-term forms of birth control — and it could be thanks to Obamacare.

A new federal report found the amount of women using “long-acting contraception” — specifically, an intrauterine device (IUD) or a contraceptive implant — quadrupled between 2002 and 2013. A record 11.6 percent of women between the ages of 15 and 44 used an IUD or implant in 2013 — up from around 7 percent in 2012.

While these types of birth control aren’t as widely used as condoms (15 percent) or birth control pills (26 percent), they are growing in popularity far faster than any of their competitors. The 2013 study found both condom and birth control use significantly down compared to 2002 numbers.

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CREDIT: Alyson Hurt/NPR

IUDs and implants have proven to be so popular because of their effectiveness — at 0.05 percent, they have the lowest pregnancy rate of all other contraception methods. Part of the method’s success lies in the simplicity. After initial insertion, some women can keep the same IUD for up to ten years — without any maintenance. This factor has made IUDs and implants an increasingly popular suggestion in programs aimed at decreasing unwanted pregnancies in developing countries andcommunities where regular health care options are hard to find.

The report doesn’t explicitly point to the cause of this surge, but expanded federal coverage — along with growing medical support — could be major contributing factors.

In 2012, the Affordable Care Act made sure all that health plans offered by employers and by state-level marketplaces covered contraception costs — phasing out co-pays for around 47 million women. This led to women saving an estimated $1.4 billion in out-of-pocket costs for contraception in 2013. Broken down, that means the average woman is saving $255 per year for pills or $248 per year for an IUD.

And while exemptions to this mandate, based on employers’ religious beliefs, remain on the the Supreme Court docket, a July decision allowed employees of anti-contraception organizations to continue to access birth control on the government’s tab.

A strong backing by the medical community has also helped boost understanding and use of IUDs. A slew of major medical organizations have sung this method’s praises in recent years. The American Academy of Pediatrics updated its teen pregnancy prevention guidelines last year to encourage pediatricians to recommend IUDs and implants to adolescent women before any other contraceptive. And in 2011, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists deemed IUDs the “most effective forms of reversible contraception available.”

Many anti-abortion organizations have recently worked to demonize IUDs , encouraged by the contentious Hobby Lobby case that sparked a spread of erroneous information claiming IUDs can trigger abortions. But, in most cases, the use of any kind of contraception actually prevents future abortions by decreasing the rate of unintended pregnancy.