In the first six years of a program that provided long-acting, reversible contraception – primarily intrauterine devices and implants – to low-income teens and women in Colorado at little or no cost, the results were staggering. Between 2009 and 2014, teen birth rates and abortion rates both dropped precipitously – 48 percent, in fact. And the resultant savings to the state were correspondingly stark; in the program’s first three years alone, Colorado avoided an estimated $79 million in Medicaid expenses.
Despite this record of dramatic success, the 2015 Legislature failed to fund the Colorado Family Planning Initiative. Politics were the primary culprit, but the state’s Department of Public Health and Environment announced Tuesday that a collaboration of private contributions will keep the program alive for the next year. It is a welcome reprieve that gives lawmakers time to transcend ideology and find a permanent revenue stream in the 2016 session of the Colorado Legislature.
Though it is temporary in nature, the stop-gap money will have life-long implications for the women and teens that access these safe and reliable forms of contraception at vulnerable periods in their lives. Forestalling motherhood, particularly through the teenage years, has many benefits: Women are more likely to finish high school, continue on to post-secondary education and earn above their peers who have children during these formative years. Daughters of teenage mothers are more likely to become teenage mothers themselves; sons are more likely to be incarcerated. For low-income women and girls, this gap is even wider, making access to long-acting, reversible contraception all the more critical – particularly because that access is proven effective.
Colorado’s program providing IUDs and implants – as well as education about contraception and training for health-care workers – had been grant-funded since its inception, but the funding ran out in June. During last winter’s legislative session, Rep. Don Coram, R-Montrose, advocated strongly for the state to take over the program and made a strong socioeconomic case. Politics won the day, though, and Coram’s measure – which was co-sponsored by Rep. KC Becker, D-Boulder – passed in the House but died a partisan death in a Republican-controlled committee in the Senate. And, notwithstanding the predictable hand-wringing about whether the Colorado Family Planning Initiative subsidizes teens’ sexual activity or provides taxpayer-funded abortofacients to young women, the decision to withhold state money from a proven program that provides vulnerable women and girls with birth control is indefensible from any standpoint other than ideology. The policy, pragmatic and fiscal arguments all support the notion.
In pledging $2 million to keep the program running for another year, the consortium of funders – which included Kaiser Permanente Colorado, the Buell Foundation, The Ben and Lucy Ana Walton Fund, Caring for Colorado Foundation, Global Health Foundation, the Colorado Trust and the Colorado Health Foundation, among others – will ensure that up to 6,000 women and teens can access free or no-cost contraception in 2015. The long-term effects of that access are incalculable but wholly positive. Had the money not arrived, teen birth rates and abortion rates would likely have climbed – to no one’s benefit.
Colorado’s legislators must commit themselves in 2016 to long-term funding sources for this effective program. In the meantime, the collaboration that temporarily sustains the Colorado Family Planning Initiative is a welcome reprieve.