herald

Thursday 14 November 2019

Free contraception would cost the State more than €80m, warns new report

Health Minister Simon Harris
Health Minister Simon Harris

A free contraception scheme would cost the State between €80m and €100m and may not be the most effective way of reducing crisis pregnancy, a report warns today.

The report of a working group, set up earlier this year by Health Minister Simon Harris in the wake of the liberalisation of abortion laws, said the notion that there is a "sizeable" affordability challenge across the population in terms of accessing contraception remains unproven.

Mr Harris has said he would like to introduce a free contraception scheme in 2021, following calls by women's rights groups and the Joint Committee on the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution.

The report suggests that the costs to the State of introducing a free contraception scheme are significant - indicatively in the region of €80m to €100m - and "there is a considerable risk that simply making contraception free to the end-user will only displace private expenditure without necessarily changing behaviour or yielding the level of desired health benefits".

"It is questionable as to whether a State-funded contraception scheme represents the optimal use of funds," it adds.

Obstacles

It is one of three possible options in the report. The other two involve extending free availability to long-acting reversible contraceptives or confining the free service to younger age groups.

The findings show that "it is clear that barriers to accessing contraception do exist for some people, with the most prevalent obstacles identified as lack of local access, cost, embarrassment, inconvenience and lack of knowledge".

It added: "At the same time, it is evident that contraception use in Ireland is high and stable and difficulty accessing contraception is only a challenge at the margins in overall population terms."

The report acknowledges that the cost of long-acting reversible contraception (LARC), regarded as very reliable and easy to use, can be €250 to €350. Other forms of this contraception cost around €70.

LARC is free to medical card holders but private patients must pay, although the cost of the visit is covered for those with the GP visit card.

Young adults aged between 18 and 25 are the main "at-risk" group for experiencing a crisis pregnancy, with the average age for experiencing such a pregnancy being 24 for women.

Almost half of women who reported experiencing a crisis pregnancy were not using contraception at the time.

The working group report puts forward three possible options, the first of which could see the introduction of a universal, State-funded contraception scheme.

The second option would be more limited and involve allowing women access to long-acting reversible contraception for free. It would cover the consultation and insertions costs associated with LARC and would cost in the region of €30m to €40m per annum depending on uptake rates.

The third option is for a State-funded contraception scheme targeting particular cohorts, with an initial focus on younger women.

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