Publicly funded family planning programs help save taxpayers billions of dollars each year by averting costly medical expenses, according to a new analysis from the Guttmacher Institute. It’s the latest data point in an overwhelming body of evidence illustrating the societal benefits of expanding access to affordable birth control.
It’s not hard to understand why that’s the case. Low-income women are at the highest risk of unintended pregnancy, largely because they don’t always have access to medical resources like contraception. But, when publicly funded programs like Title X help those women get affordable birth control, it can make a big difference. Guttmacher researchers estimate that the care provided at publicly funded family planning clinics helped prevent 2.2 million unplanned pregnancies in 2010.
With so many fewer pregnancies among this population, appropriating funding for family planning works out to be very good deal for the government. It eliminates a significant amount of potential Medicaid spending, since states don’t have to pay as much for abortions, for miscarriages, or for maternity and infant care. “This investment resulted in net government savings of $13.6 billion in 2010, or $7.09 for every public dollar spent,” the researchers conclude.
And investing in women’s health can influence more than pregnancies. Title X clinics also provide screening and treatment for sexually transmitted infections, something that helps prevent patients from transmitting those infections to their future sexual partners. Guttmacher estimates that helped reduce chlamydia, gonorrhea, and HIV infections by 99,100 cases, 16,240 cases, and 410 cases respectively. Plus, providing resources for low-income women to get tested for cervical cancer helped identify 3,600 cases early enough to prevent more than 2,000 deaths.
“This analysis quantifies, for the first time, many of the myriad benefits of publicly funded family planning services beyond enabling women to prevent unintended pregnancies,” the lead author of the new report, Jennifer Frost, said in a statement. According to Frost, the research provides “the most comprehensive portrait to date of the value of taxpayers’ investment in these services.”
Despite the well-documented benefits of family planning programs, states continue to slash funding in this area as women’s health issues have become a politicized issue. Title X has been cut by more than $23 million over the past two fiscal years, and back in 2011, Republicans in the House of Representatives voted along party lines to defund the program altogether. Plus, recent attempts to attack Planned Parenthood clinics have left some low-income women — particularly in Texas, where the family planning infrastructure has been devastated — without any access to these services at all. Indeed, according to previous research conducted by Guttmacher, publicly funded clinics can’t keep up with the demand.
But GOP leaders do recognize the financial benefits of Title X. Earlier this year, House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI)’s audit of federal anti-poverty programs conceded that the program is “moderately effective,” concluding that the low-income women who rely on those clinics “have significantly greater odds of receiving contraceptive services and/or care for sexually transmitted diseases” than the women who rely on private physicians.
Guttmacher researchers point out that their findings about Title X are relevant to the larger health policy debate, too, since Obamacare’s contraceptive coverage requirement seeks to expand exactly these type of preventative services to privately insured women across the country. Although that policy has been under attack from conservatives who say it violates their religious liberty, as well as from anti-Obamacare politicians, reproductive rights advocates have firmly stood behind it.
“The positive impact of these services is undeniable, and it is our hope that these benefits will continue to grow as the ACA expands access to preventive health services for many more individuals,” another one of the study’s authors, Adam Sonfield, pointed out.