In the U.S., 'Free' Birth Control Is Born

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We all know that women have some unique challenges related to the fact that our bodies are designed to incubate, and then deliver into the world, entirely new human beings. Our special talent comes with significantly higher healthcare needs, as we require a decent amount of upkeep.

How much? Good Magazine recently calculated the "cost of being female," which varies widely, but ranges from thousands of dollars to tens of thousands of dollars.

Consider pelvic exams, which are recommended for women annually starting when they are 18 years old. Most women will have more than 50 during their lifetime. A woman who has insurance and pays $40 per exam will spend more than $2,000 over the decades, while one without insurance, who pays $140 per exam at Planned Parenthood, racks up a total bill of more than $7,000.

Birth control is also pricey, costing anywhere from $3,600 to $18,000 for a lifetime of protection, depending on the type of birth control, insurance coverage and frequency of use. (The high prices have even created a black market for birth-control pills and emergency contraception, as my colleague Catherine New reported in April). Women also pay for screenings for gestational diabetes, as well as testing and counseling around HIV, other sexually transmitted diseases and domestic violence.

No Co-Pays for Birth Control

It's no wonder, then, that so many Americans are celebrating Monday's announcement from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services: Beginning on Aug. 1, 2012, insurance providers will no longer be able to charge co-pays or other additional fees for government-approved birth control or a handful of other medical services. (The complete list of free women's services is based on recommendations the National Academy of Sciences presented in July.)

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The law aims to increase preventive care -- including mammograms, colonoscopies, blood pressure checks and childhood immunizations -- by banning co-payments, deductibles and other charges for those services, according to The New York Times.

The idea behind the law, which is part of the Obama administration's Affordable Care Act, is to prevent health problems from developing, as opposed to treating them once there's an issue, thereby maintaining a healthier population and lower health-care costs. As HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said in a press release, "these historic guidelines are based on science and existing literature and will help ensure women get the preventative health benefits they need."

Potential Taxpayer Savings

In a study titled "The Public Costs of Births Resulting from Unintended Pregnancies: National and State-Level Estimates," Guttmacher Institute researchers found that two-thirds of the births resulting from unintended pregnancies -- more than 1 million births -- are publicly funded, making up more than 80% of the total births in a couple of U.S. states. It estimates the cost of those births, and the potential gross savings from helping women to avert them, at a whopping $11.1 billion.

A second study, "Unintended Pregnancy and Taxpayer Spending," by researchers at the Brookings Institution, estimated a health-care cost of between $9.6 billion and $12.6 billion per year, with an average of $11.3 billion per year, for unintended pregnancies. Preventing these pregnancies would save taxpayers between $4.7 billion and $6.2 billion per year, with an average of $5.6 billion per year.

Religious Institutions Exempt

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