After IUDs and contraceptive implants were made more affordable in Colorado, teen pregnancies and abortion rates and public health spending in the state significantly decreased.

The number of teen pregnancies in Colorado decreased 40 percent between 2009 and 2013, according to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. This was most likely due to a program in the state that gives free or low-cost, long-acting contraceptives to young women ages 15-24 who want them. The initiative, which also included training, outreach and technical help, was made possible by an anonymous donor who provided $23 million dollars. When Colorado’s health department conducted a study to examine the effects of the program, they found that between 2008 and 2012, Colorado’s ranking on teen birthrates went from 29th lowest to 19th lowest. Teen abortion rates decreased 34 percent during the study’s time period, and in 2010 alone, Colorado saved over $42 million on health care costs that normally would have gone to expenses associated with teen births.

Colorado’s Family Planning Initiative gave funding to family planning clinics all over the state that resulted in around 30,000 IUDs and implants offered to low-income young women at little or no cost. Without insurance, an IUD would cost between $500 and $900, preventing many low-income women from accessing this highly-effective, reversible, long-acting form of contraception.

Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper (D) praised the program last month, saying that “it has helped thousands of young Colorado women continue their education, pursue their professional goals and postpone pregnancy until they are ready to start a family.”

The authors of the study say the Colorado initiative should serve as an example of how family planning coverage should look under the Affordable Care Act. A spokesperson from Colorado’s public health department told CNN, “By showing the effectiveness of long-acting, reversible contraceptives, we’re providing the evidence needed for health plans … to cover family planning services.” In 2007, a comparable program was carried out in St. Louis, Missouri, where 10,000 teen girls were provided with their choice of birth control at no cost to them. In just a year, the rate of teen pregnancy in Missouri became significantly lower than the US average.

Liz Romer, a family planning nurse at Denver Children’s Hospital told BBC News, “We really strongly believe that adolescents need access to contraception. … It needs to be readily available, the same day, and it needs to be free.”

Funding for the initiative will end in 2015, and it’s not clear what steps will be taken once funding for affordable contraceptives runs out.

Media Resources: BBC News 8/10/14; CNN 7/10/14; Governor John Hickenlooper Press Release 7/3/14; American Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology 8/10/14; Guttmacher Institute

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