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Do Conservatives Understand How the Female Body Works? The Myth Fueling the Right-Wing Freak-Out Over Birth Control

The Republicans' chosen narrative about Obama's contraceptive coverage betrays a total lack of understanding of the most basic realities of human reproduction.

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When those factors are accounted for, contraceptives aren't just free – they save money. According to a study by the Washington Business Group on Health and the employee benefits consulting firm William M. Mercer, “it costs employers 15–17 percent more to not provide contraceptive coverage in employee health plans than to provide such coverage”

And these analyses understate the savings, because they only weigh the costs of providing birth control against the costs of unplanned pregnancies (whether they end in a birth or an abortion). As HHS notes, “when indirect costs such as time away from work and productivity loss are considered, they further reduce the total cost to an employer.”

Global Health Outcomes developed a model that incorporates costs of contraception, costs of unintended pregnancy, and indirect costs. They find that it saves employers $97 per year per employee to offer a comprehensive contraceptive benefit. Similarly, the PwC actuaries state that after all effects are taken into account, providing contraceptive services is “cost-saving.”

Even this more comprehensive accounting still understates the savings that result from good family planning. As ABC news reported, an analysis of 30 years of research published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that spacing out childbirths results in significant health benefits for both mothers and infants. “Women who space their pregnancies close together,” the study found, “are at an increased risk of giving birth prematurely, and having a baby with a low birth weight who's smaller.” What's more, “if the time between pregnancies was less than 18 months or more than five years, the babies born during the second pregnancy were at a higher risk of having difficulties early in life.”

Premature and underweight births run up really high bills. According to a report in BusinessWeek, “Corporations pay out nearly 15 times as much for babies born prematurely in their first year of life as for full-term babies, at an average cost of about $41,000 per child. For the earliest of the preemies, who are born in fewer than 28 weeks and spend up to three months in the hospital, the tab is higher.” Norman J. Waitzman, a professor of economics at the University of Utah, told BusinessWeek, "The million-dollar babies are there."

And there's yet another matter to consider: the use of birth-control pills to prevent or treat a variety of medical issues. While religious conservatives are offended by the idea of consequence-free sex, birth control pills are simply a hormonal therapy. “A lot of the women I see who require contraceptive methods are actually using them for non-contraceptive indications,” said UC Davis' Kelly Cullwell. “Some of those women can actually have life-threatening” conditions,” she added. Contraceptives are medicine, used to treat painful or irregular periods and the transition into menopause, and prevent bone loss and the development of non-cancerous cysts in the breasts, cervix and uterus.

All of this cuts down on overall healthcare costs, lost work days and decreased productivity. And that explains why even as conservative bloggers and the Atlantic's oft-mocked business editor are convinced that religious organizations will stealthily end up being stuck with some sort of “cost,” we haven't heard the insurance industry gripe about that aspect of the rule. It issued a statement decrying the “precedent” the administration set, but it's worth noting that its objections were non-economic, and seemed pretty mild.

And that's because the industry understands human biology. Corporations like saving money, and insurers know from actuarial studies and real-world experience that by providing cost-free contraception to working women, they'll do just that.  

 
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