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Study: VA could prevent hundreds of unintended pregnancies by adjusting birth control supplies

Written by Kathleen J. Davis/WESA | Jul 8, 2019 11:55 AM
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In this Aug. 26, 2016, file photo, a one-month dosage of hormonal birth control pills is displayed in Sacramento, Calif. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli, File)

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs could prevent nearly 600 unintended pregnancies a year by adjusting how it dispense oral contraceptives, according to new research from the University of Pittsburgh.

The VA is the largest integrated healthcare system in the U.S., and provides about 24,000 female veterans with oral contraceptives. Like most insurance systems in the country, the VA distributes three-month supplies of birth control pills, which must be refilled. 

"In a previous study our team found that over 40 percent of women veterans had a gap of seven days or more between contraceptive refills," said senior author Sonya Borrero. "These kinds of gaps put women at really high risk for undesired pregnancy."

While this gap is on par with the general population, Borrero said women veterans often have medical and mental illness from their time in service. There is also no abortion coverage through the VA.

The study authors used a mathematical model to analyze prescription data from the VA, and estimated that switching to a 12-month supply would prevent 583 unintended pregnancies a year. This in turn would save the VA $2 million annually in costs associated with these pregnancies, such as prenatal, birth and newborn necessities.

"Dispensing a year's supply of contraception up front is a strategy that can help circumvent these gaps and is known to reduce unintended pregnancy and abortion," Borrero said.

Lead author Colleen Judge-Golden said the VA has been working to improve reproductive care for women veterans.

"So I do think there may be momentum within the VA to enact such a policy," Judge-Golden said. "Whether or not that's bureaucratically possible may be another question."

The VA was not available to comment for this story.

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