The vast majority of women in the U.S. are not using the most effective method of birth control available, according to a new study from the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis.
The study finds that the pill is significantly less effective at preventing pregnancy than long-lasting contraceptive methods such as the intrauterine device (IUD), building on earlier research that has drawn the same conclusion. In fact, women using IUDs or implants were a staggering 20 times less likely to get pregnant than women who used shorter contraceptive methods like the pill.
Yet few women in the U.S. currently use this type of contraception because IUDs are often very expensive — with co-pays costing hundreds of dollars — and rarely covered by insurance plans. As the study’s lead author, Dr. Brooke Winner, told Reuters:
Nationally, only about 5 percent are using long-lasting methods like IUDs and implants. We know one of the barriers to why they’re not using them more frequently is up-front costs. If [more] women were using these products nationally, there would be a very significant drop in unintended pregnancies, which would have far-reaching effects.
Although the birth control pill is the most commonly used contraceptive in the U.S., its effectiveness diminishes when women miss any of their daily pills or struggle to fill their monthly prescriptions on time. So if IUDs are significantly more effective at preventing pregnancy than the pill, doctors ought to be encouraging more women to use them. As another one of the study’s authors points out, “If there were a drug for cancer, heart disease or diabetes that was 20 times more effective we would recommend it first.”
Fortunately, President Obama’s new birth control regulation that expands access to birth control may help both doctors and women address this issue. Because the new policy would eliminate co-pays for contraceptives, IUDs would become a viable option for the women who currently can’t afford them — and, as the Guttmacher Institute has documented, removing cost barriers to contraceptive services greatly increases the number of women who choose to use the most effective methods.