Published 4:49 pm, Monday, April 10, 2017
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Low-income women in Connecticut who have just given birth and don’t want to get pregnant again anytime soon are now offered a long-acting birth control option postpartum.
Medical providers say the policy by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services will reduce the number of unplanned pregnancies and lead to better maternal health outcomes by ensuring pregnancies are spaced a healthy length of time apart.
Connecticut’s HUSKY program is one of 26 state Medicaid programs nationwide that reimburses hospitals for administering long-acting reversible contraception — namely, intrauterine devices (IUDs) and subdermal implants — to Medicaid patients. HUSKY started reimbursing for the devices last year.
The new policy is “perfect,” as it helps quickly connect patients with effective birth control, said Dr. Shabnam Kashani, Bridgeport Hospital Chief of Gynecology. “That’s the first line for us in contraception,” Kashani said. “It’s effective and it has less side effects (than other forms of birth control).”
Women who have given birth typically discuss birth control options with their obstetricians at a six-week-postpartum appointment. Allowing them to get a form of long-acting reversible contraception right in the delivery room, experts said, removes an obstacle to timely birth control.
“Especially in populations where you might not get women coming back (to their doctor) after delivery in a timely fashion, this is a great way to avoid delay of care and delay of access,” agreed Dr. Setul Pardanani, attending physician and OB/GYN at Stamford Hospital and ambulatory director for OB/GYN at the Optimus Clinic in Stamford. “I definitely think it’s a good thing.”
Kashani echoed his statement, saying that, often, by the time patients return for a visit, they’re already pregnant with another baby. “Now, they get it right after delivery so we don’t miss them,” she said.
It’s too soon to tell how popular the option is in Connecticut; there are no data available on how many women have gotten long-acting contraception inserted immediately postpartum, said David Dearborn, spokesman for the state Department of Social Services. HUSKY covers the cost once hospitals submit claims seeking reimbursement.
“New services like this can take a while for providers to begin the billing process,” Dearborn said, and other lags in the claims process cause delays. “It’s a somewhat new development and not yet in the mainstream of hospital services and claiming.”
Nationally, about half of all pregnancies are unplanned, according to a 2011 study by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In Connecticut alone, there were 32,000 unintended pregnancies in 2010.
Against that backdrop, women’s use of long-acting contraception has spiked in recent years because of its efficacy, according to the CDC. From 2011 to 2013, 7.2 percent of women ages 15 to 44 used the devices, up from just 1.5 percent in 2002.
Their popularity has grown, in part, because the free birth control provided under the Affordable Care Act has eliminated the cost barrier previously associated with these forms of contraception, said Dr. Nancy Stanwood, director of fellowship in family planning at Yale School of Medicine’s Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology & Reproductive Sciences.
“It used to be a pocketbook issue,” she said.
Pros and cons
Even for women who want a future pregnancy, IUDs or subdermal implants can help ensure they don’t become pregnant too quickly, Stanwood said.
“It’s really important to space pregnancies,” she said, and there should be 18 months between when a woman gives birth and when she next conceives. A shorter timeframe, she said, can elevate risks of premature delivery and other fetal and maternal complications.
Long-acting contraception offers women the best odds, other than abstinence, of preventing pregnancy, Stanwood said.
One caveat, doctors said, is that IUDs inserted immediately postpartum have a higher rate of expulsion than those inserted later. Typically, for a woman who has not been pregnant recently there is a 5 percent chance an IUD will slip out of place. The chance rises as high as 25 percent for a woman who just gave birth. But even with a higher risk of expulsion, having an IUD placed immediately postpartum is still better than having no birth control, Pardanani said.
Having it done in the hospital makes sense, Stanwood said, because by the time women see their doctor for a six-week-postpartum visit they may be distracted by juggling a return to work, family responsibilities and life with a newborn. They also could be unexpectedly pregnant again, she added.
“Sometimes ‘later’ is too late,” she said.
Staff writer Amanda Cuda contributed to this report.