By Kristin Jones
It's a success story that won't quit. Teen pregnancies in Colorado have dropped dramatically; so have abortions. Much of the decline is due to a state family planning program that gives low-income women more choices of and access to contraceptives.
Just as remarkable: the same program has saved state and federal programs from spending almost $14 million a year in Medicaid, food assistance and other services, according to a recent estimate.
The latest results were reported last week by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment:
- Births to teen mothers aged 15 to 19 fell by 54 percent between 2009 and 2016.
- Abortions among teens dropped 64 percent in the same time period.
- The number of teenagers giving birth for the second or third time declined 63 percent.
Colorado's Title X Family Planning Program isn't new; it's been around for nearly 50 years, and receives a mix of federal, state and local funding. In 2008, it received a big boost from an anonymous donor (later revealed to be the Susan Thompson Buffett Foundation) that allowed local clinics to start offering long-acting reversible contraceptives, like IUDs and implants, for free or very little cost. (When that funding lapsed in 2015, The Colorado Trust and other foundations stepped in to provide a bridge grant before the state legislature approved the program's continued funding.)
IUDs and implants are considered the most effective form of contraception for teens and women who may still want to have children down the line. They last up to 10 years, and they don't require anyone to remember to take a pill or use a condom or diaphragm.
They're also expensive, so a lot of teen girls and women can't afford them without help. That's why this program has been able to make such a huge difference.
The ability to plan when and if to have a family "affects the entire trajectory of a life," says Jody Camp, the state's family planning program manager. "The ability to go to high school, the ability to go to college, and to achieve that financial stability of their family."
Children born to teen mothers are at higher risk for having a low birth weight and for dying in the first year of their lives. They're more likely to experience chronic medical problems, and to grow up in poverty, with all of the negative health effects that go along with that.
Though Title X clinics are open to everyone, they're used mostly by low-income women and disproportionately by women of color. They're the ones whose lives were most affected by having more effective contraceptive choices available to them.
But by covering the upfront costs of the IUDs and implants, the clinics also averted costs to taxpayers further downstream. A University of Colorado study found that between 2010 and 2014, the program saved an estimated $66.1 to $69.6 million in spending by Medicaid, Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF), Colorado Food Assistance Program/Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC).
That means more money in state coffers to pay for other things we all need, like roads and schools.
The bad news is that the Title X clinics' funding is once again under threat, this time from the federal government. The administration this year shortened the Title X grant cycle from three years to one year, meaning that federal funding is only guaranteed through the end of June 2018.
As Congress puts its faith in an effort to boost the economy by helping corporations, it's worth remembering that sometimes money doesn't trickle down as effectively as you might think. Sometimes, giving a break to teenage girls can make us all better off.