Reducing the number of unintended pregnancies is a national public health goal, and for good reason: Giving birth to an unplanned child affects not only a woman’s ability to finish her education and participate in the workforce, but also her child’s chances of being born healthy and poised to grow and thrive.
So it’s good news that the Legislature’s Health and Human Services Committee has recommended passage of L.D. 1247, a proposal to expand MaineCare coverage of family planning services for low-income women — even as prospects for extending eligiblity for MaineCare as a whole grew dimmer Wednesday.
L.D. 1247 would increase poor women’s access to preventive care — including breast exams, cervical cancer screenings and tests for and treatment of sexually transmitted diseases — as well as making it easier for them to afford effective birth control. (It wouldn’t cover abortion.) This is a win-win for both the state and tens of thousands of Maine women, and it should get the support of the full Legislature.
The federal government usually picks up two-thirds of the cost of Medicaid services, but under L.D. 1247, it would cover 90 percent of the expense of family planning services for women earning less than $23,000 a year. For low-income women, that would remove a significant barrier to getting birth control. For example, the pill — the most popular form of contraception — can cost uninsured women an estimated $100 or so a month, including prescriptions and doctor’s visits. That’s an expense that’s incurred month after month, for years.
No wonder about 30 percent of sexually active women of childbearing age say they’ve tried to save money by skipping pills or halting their use for up to a month at a time. But women who use contraception either inconsistently or not at all account for 95 percent of all unplanned pregnancies.
And births resulting from these pregnancies can present challenges to both mothers and children. Compared to a woman who planned her pregnancy before conception, a woman carrying an unplanned child is less likely to breast feed and more likely to delay prenatal care, experience depression and have a premature or underweight baby.
Over the long term, studies show, unplanned children tend to be less healthy than other kids and less likely to do well in school, and their mothers are less likely than other mothers to complete their schooling and get work.
What’s more, there’s also a toll on taxpayers: In 2008, the state of Maine spent around $12 million to cover the cost of 3,500 births resulting from unintended pregnancies. If Maine expands Medicaid family planning services, the state would save $93,000 the first year and $2 million by the third year, including “prenatal care, labor and delivery, and postpartum care, as well as one year of Medicaid costs for an infant,” according to the Guttmacher Institute, a reproductive health think tank.
L.D. 1247 will generate taxpayer savings and ensure that fewer children are born into poverty. And since unintended pregnancies account for 90 percent of abortions, anything that lowers the number of unplanned pregnancies will lower the number of abortions. Legislators should pass L.D. 1247 and take this opportunity to make a big difference in many Mainers’ lives.