A copper intrauterine device (IUD) retails for the equivalent of $20 in France. In the United States, it costs $860, Dr. Eve Espey says.
“This is highway robbery. It has to change,” she said during a talk on long-acting reversible contraception at the annual meeting of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG). “Honestly,” she sighed, “If you went to Home Depot and picked up the supplies to make yourself an IUD, what would it cost? Like, under $1.” (Not that she’s advocating that.)
Strong words, and they’re not coming from just any frustrated physician. Dr. Espey is chair of ACOG’s Working Group on Long-Acting Reversible Contraception and a professor of ob.gyn. at the University of New Mexico, Albuquerque.
The high U.S. price may be one reason that only 6% of U.S. women using contraceptives choose an IUD, even though studies show it’s one of the most effective kinds of contraception, along with levonorgestrel intrauterine systems and contraceptive implants, the other two kinds of long-active reversible contraceptives.
Sure, the cost of a copper IUD may be somewhat less than $860 if the physician or patient has access to government prices or other discounts, but it still creates a financial burden for physicians to stock their shelves with IUDs, not to mention inadequate reimbursement from insurers, she said.
“I think that the emerging, biggest barrier to IUD and implant use in this country is price,” Dr. Espey said. “ACOG is really trying to work to make a dent in that, but I think that until we see a cheaper IUD, it’s going to be a barrier to increased usage.”
Dr. Espey reported having no financial disclosures.
There’s only one copper IUD approved for use in the United States, so I contacted the makers of the ParaGard IUD, Teva Women’s Health. The “typical cost” for one ParaGard is $754, according to the company’s vice president for corporate communications, Denise Bradley. She said that the ParaGard’s price is “below most other forms of female birth control,” that most insurance plans cover ParaGard, and that the company offers women whose insurers don’t cover the IUD the option of paying by monthly installments.
She didn’t respond directly to the question of whether ParaGard’s cost is a barrier to use, but said, “Teva Women’s Health believes that increased access to all forms of contraception is of critical importance to all women of reproductive age.” She declined to comment on price differences between copper IUDs in the United States and other countries.
Recent data show that when financial barriers are removed and women receive standardized information about contraceptive choices, many more choose long-acting reversible contraception. The Reproductive CHOICE Project recruited nearly 10,000 women in the St. Louis area who desired contraception, gave them standardized counseling, and provided contraceptives for free.
Results from the first 4,167 women to complete a year of follow-up found that 71% chose a long-acting reversible contraceptive (45% the levonorgestrel intrauterine system, 13% the copper IUD, and 13% an implant), Dr. Espey said. Others chose contraceptive pills, vaginal rings, transdermal patches, or another method.
After 12 months of use, 80% of IUD users reported being somewhat or very satisfied, compared with 54% of pill, patch, or ring users, she said. Only 55% of pill, patch, or ring users were on the same choice of contraception after 1 year compared with 84% of IUD users, 83% of implant users, and 88% of women who got a levonorgestrel intrauterine system.
The investigators recently reported that there have been 334 unintended pregnancies in 7,486 participants. Those using the pill, patch or ring were 22 times more likely to experience contraceptive failure compared with participants on long-acting reversible contraceptives (N. Engl. J. Med. 2012:366:1998-2007).
Long-acting reversible contraception was equally effective in all age groups, but use of the pill, patch, or ring was strikingly less effective in participants younger than 21 years, who were nearly twice as likely to have an unintended pregnancy compared with older women using those same methods of birth control.
–Sherry Boschert (on Twitter @sherryboschert)