IEET Author on Technology Shift in Publicly Funded Contraception Experiment

Over at the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies, Valerie Tarico wrote an interesting analysis of a St. Louis program that adopted an Obamacare-like approach to contraception. According to a US News & World Report article on the program,

Through a project known as Contraceptive CHOICE, nearly 10,000 women between the ages of 14 and 45 in the St. Louis and Kansas City, Mo., areas were offered free contraceptives between 2007 and 2011. Abortion rates among that cohort were between two thirds and three quarters less than the national average for those years. For the 500 teens in the study, the birth rate was 1-in-159, compared to the 1-in-29 birth rate nationally–an 80 percent drop.

That’s an astounding reduction in teen pregnancies. What’s even more interesting, and the focus of Tarico’s article, is that the reason for the drop appears to be that the women in the study opted to shift from less reliable to more reliable forms of birth control.

But the real story is even bigger. What got triggered when 9000 women were offered free birth control was a technology shift in a microcosm. When presented with comprehensive information and a buffet of no-cost options, a majority of the study’s participants, almost 75%, shifted from 1960’s contraceptive technologies to state-of-the-art long acting reversible contraceptives known in the industry as LARCs. And they liked them!

. . .

In the real world, long acting reversible contraceptives have 1/10 to 1/50th the failure rate of Pills, and they are cheaper in the long run. But the upfront cost is substantial, as much as $1000 for the device and insertion. The result is that women who are living month to month often choose old technologies and then pay the price, and even middle class women with health insurance may balk at the lump sum. Taking the money out of the equation changes the bottom line.

I tend to be very libertarian but clearly this is a case where the initial government spending may be far outweighed by later savings (i.e., government expenditures on pregnant teens and their children). Regardless, it is interesting just how stupid the response from the Family Research Council to the study was. US News quotes FRC’s Jeanne Monahan,

One might conclude that the Obama administration’s contraception mandate may ultimately cause more unplanned pregnancies since it mandates that all health plans cover contraceptives, including those that the study’s authors claim are less effective.

The stupid, it burns.