Pregnancy Prevention and the Taxpayer

Posted on March 5, 2012

New York Times, March 5, 2012 by Motoko Rich

Between the flap at the Susan G. Komen for the Cure and the squall about the Obama administration’s directive that health insurance plans cover the cost of birth control, contraception is shaping up as one of the year’s biggest political land mines.

A new paper makes the economic case for government-financed birth control, along with other pregnancy prevention programs: they save taxpayers money.

The study reviews previous research on the effectiveness of various pregnancy prevention measures and the costs of unintended pregnancies. Using a simulation model, the study projects the annual savings that could result from the introduction or enhancement of three programs: mass media campaigns to persuade young people to use birth control; sex education and pregnancy prevention programs for teenagers in schools or after-school activities; and subsidized birth control.

These programs can save taxpayers anywhere from $2 to $6 for every $1 spent, according to Adam Thomas, a visiting associate professor at the Georgetown Public Policy Institute who wrote the paper when he was research director at the Center on Children and Families at the Brookings Institution.

Measuring savings on publicly financed medical care for pregnant women and other means-tested benefits provided to children under age 5, Mr. Thomas found that a mass media campaign aimed at promoting safe sex could save taxpayers $431 million a year, while sex education and teenage pregnancy prevention programs could save $356 million. The biggest savings would come from increasing the amount of subsidized birth control available to poor women. At a cost of $235 million a year, such programs could save $1.32 billion annually.

Mr. Thomas suggested that the savings could be even higher if his model could account for spending on other government safety net programs for older children and adults as well as spending on criminal justice.

Given the fight over federal funds for Planned Parenthood and moves within some states to decline federal funds for pregnancy prevention programs for teenagers, Mr. Thomas wrote that “the relevant evidence suggests that state and federal lawmakers would be wise to maintain or even increase their investments in proven pregnancy prevention strategies rather than reduce their efforts in this area.”

Posted in: United States