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Utah lawmaker's plan to cover birth control for the poor

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — A plan to cover the costs of birth control for poor women in Utah would help women and families climb out of poverty by preventing unwanted pregnancies and save taxpayer money and prevent abortions, a state lawmaker working on the proposal said Wednesday.

Utah is one of seven states that don't offer family planning coverage for low-income residents, but Rep. Ray Ward, a Bountiful Republican who is also a family doctor, told members of a poverty committee that he's working to change that.

Ward plans to run legislation next year setting up a three-year pilot program that will cover the costs of birth control for poor women who aren't eligible for Medicaid or other government insurance programs. It would take advantage of a federal family planning initiative where the U.S. government picks up 90 percent of the cost.

Ward told members of the state's Intergenerational Poverty Advisory Committee Wednesday that access to birth control among the most effective ways to get women and children out of poverty and he wants to give people options if they're not looking to get pregnant.

He said the program would also help the state because it's expected to save taxpayer money spent on Medicaid, the government insurance program for the poor. Medicaid is Utah's most expensive social program and it pays the costs of about one-third of all births in Utah.

The state's poor, childless adults are generally not eligible for Medicaid coverage but women can become eligible when they get pregnant, with the program paying for costs of pregnancy, birth and insurance for the woman and child afterward.

His plan would cover the costs of birth control that require a visit to a doctor, such as pills or intrauterine devices, but not condoms. It would not cover abortions.

Ward's plan is estimated to cost Utah about $1 million annually but save $9.6 million over five years, said Jessica Sanders the director of family planning research at the University of Utah's medical school.

Sanders said the program is also estimated to prevent about 2,000 unintended pregnancies and 680 abortions, and help 8,000 women who live below the poverty level, generally earning about $12,000 annually or less.

She said the plan could make a big difference for low-income women and families who otherwise forgo birth control because of the costs. An average woman can face monthly copays for birth control pills that range from $15 to $50, Sanders said, and devices like IUDs can be costly without insurance, up to about $1,000 each.

"Contraception becomes a basic pocketbook issue for many of these women and families," she said.

Ward said legislators considered the plan earlier this year and GOP Gov. Gary Herbert proposed funding it in his budget, but it didn't get approved as legislators instead sent money to other programs.

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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