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Fewer Unwanted Pregnancies With No Birth Control Limits

March 10, 2011

According to suggestions from a new study, women may have less unwanted pregnancies if birth control pills were offered in a year-long supply, Reuters reports.

Currently, private and public health insurance companies generally limit how many months worth of the pills can be prescribed at once.

But in the new study, researchers found that low-income California women who received a year’s supply of birth control pills had fewer unplanned pregnancies than women who only received one- or three-month supplies.

The team found that 1 in 100 women on the longer-supplied pills program became pregnant within one year, while 3 in 100 women became pregnant while using the shorter time period supplies.

The study also found that when doctors prescribed a full year supply of pills, about 2 in 1000 women had a state-funded abortion the following year. But for those women who had to come back every month or three months, roughly 6 in 1000 women had a state-funded abortion.

The findings, however, do not prove that longer lasting supplies will prevent unwanted pregnancies and abortions, the team said.

But that is what the findings do suggest, according to lead researcher Dr Diana Greene Foster of the University of California, San Francisco.

“The implication of our finding is that health programs and insurance policies would likely save money and improve quality of care by dispensing a year’s supply,” Foster told Reuters Health in an emailed statement.

California and a few other states have publicly funded programs that let lower-income women who do not qualify for Medicaid receive a full year’s supply of birth control pills from a family planning clinic, but not from a pharmacy.

However, women who do qualify for Medicaid, fall under Medicaid rules, and most state Medicaid programs limit prescription drugs to either one or three months, Foster noted.

Foster’s study involved more than 84,000 low-income women who received birth control pills through California’s family planning program in January 2006. About 1 in 10 received a one-year supply.

The study, however, only included women in California’s Medi-Cal program. Results would have been more reliable had participants been randomly assigned a longer or shorter supply of birth control pills, Foster said.

The team did try to account for factors that may have affected the results. When considering the women’s age, race and history of birth control use, getting a one-year supply was still linked to a reduction in the odds of unplanned pregnancy and abortion over the next year.

Foster said giving women a one-year supply of pills may allow them to take them without interruptions. But also, she said, “it could be that being given a year’s supply may enhance the expectation that the method is acceptable and safe, while fewer packs may encourage the woman to reconsider use of the method at each re-supply visit.”

Foster and her colleagues estimated that giving a year-long supply of birth control to all women in the study could have prevented nearly 1,300 unplanned pregnancies and 300 abortions paid for by the state.

The study was published in the March 2011 issue of Obstetrics & Gynecology.

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