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One benefit from expanded Medicaid: savings from more available contraception

Several state governors say they are unlikely to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act upheld by the Supreme Court. But by opting out, states will lose societal and budgetary benefits of fewer unplanned pregnancies by making publicly funded contraception more available.

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At a July 3 news conference, Mississippi state Sen. John Horhn, D-Jackson, says the Mississippi Legislative Black Caucus will seek legislation to ratify covering more low-income adults in the Affordable Care Act, upheld by the US Supreme Court. Mississippi's governor is one of several who say their state is likely to opt out of Medicaid expansion under the new law. Op-ed contributor Adam Thomas writes that 'expansions in Medicaid contraceptive services are likely to produce budgetary savings.'

Rogelio V. Solis/AP

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The government’s role in family planning has been a bone of political contention in recent years, and the Supreme Court’s ruling on the constitutionality of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act marks a significant moment in this debate.

The court preserved the core of the health-care law by upholding the mandate that most Americans carry health insurance. But it also struck down a provision that, indirectly, would have helped to extend eligibility for publicly funded contraceptive services to a large number of new beneficiaries as part of a broader expansion of the Medicaid program due in 2014.

The court ruled that the federal government can’t withhold funds from states that choose not to expand Medicaid – government-funded health care for the poor – to those earning up to 133 percent of the poverty line (about $31,000 for a family of four). Since the court’s ruling, several governors have indicated they are likely to opt out of that expansion, which was expected to cover a total of 17 million more people.

Even though the federal government will cover all of the expansion’s cost for the first few years and at least 90 percent of  its cost in later years, some governors say their states still can’t afford it. But by opting out of the expansion, states will lose the societal and budgetary benefits of reducing unplanned pregnancies by making publicly funded contraceptive services available to millions more people.

Almost half of all pregnancies in the United States are unintended, and research has shown that unintended pregnancy and childbearing lead not only to increased government spending but also to reduced educational attainment and labor force participation among women. They also diminish educational and health outcomes among children. Expansions in states’ Medicaid programs would help to lessen all of these social problems.

The Guttmacher Institute estimates that more than 60 percent of the public dollars spent on family planning services – i.e., contraception – are disbursed through the Medicaid system. Studies show that previous expansions in states’ Medicaid programs resulted in notable reductions in the number of unintended births and abortions.

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