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FDA Approval of Over-the-Counter Emergency Contraception Has Slashed ER Visits
  • Posted January 30, 2024

FDA Approval of Over-the-Counter Emergency Contraception Has Slashed ER Visits

U.S. approval of over-the-counter emergency contraception like “Plan B” has had an unintended but positive side effect for America's hospitals, a new study shows.

Emergency room visits related to “morning-after” contraception plummeted after the pills became easily available to adults in 2006, according to the report published Jan. 24 in the journal JAMA Network Open.

ERs saw 96% fewer visits from women seeking emergency contraception, falling from 17,019 to 659 between 2006 and 2020, researchers found.

That saved $7.2 million in hospital expenses, researchers estimated -- a drop from $7.6 million in 2006 to just under $386,000 in 2020.

“Emergency departments are important sites for accessing emergency contraception given their 24-hour access and high acuity care,” said senior researcher Dr. Erica Marsh, chief of reproductive endocrinology and infertility at the University of Michigan Health Von Voigtlander Women's Hospital.

For the study, researchers analyzed national data of more than 2 million ER visits among women ages 15 to 44 during the 14-year period.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the first product for emergency contraception in 1998, with over-the-counter approval following for adults in 2006 and minors in 2013. Coverage by insurance is mandated by the Affordable Care Act.

Women who go to the ER for emergency contraception tend to be younger, low-income, Medicaid-insured and Black or Hispanic, researchers discovered.

“We found an overrepresentation of certain demographic groups utilizing emergency departments for emergency contraception,” Marsh said in a university news release. “This aligns with previous outpatient research suggesting ongoing barriers to over-the-counter emergency contraception access and or increased emergency department utilization for other reasons, including sexual assault.”

Northeast hospitals saw the most visits for emergency contraception, accounting for 44% to 59% of the national total despite having just 17% to 19% of overall ER visits.

Meanwhile, southern hospitals saw just 4.5% to 17% of visits related to emergency contraception, despite consistently averaging more than 40% of other types of ER visits, researchers found.

“Our analysis suggests ongoing barriers in over-the-counter emergency contraception and disparities in utilization for certain populations,” Marsh said. “Future policies should reduce barriers to make emergency contraception safe and affordable to all.”

More information

Planned Parenthood has more about emergency contraception.

SOURCE: University of Michigan, news release, Jan. 26, 2024

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