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Colorado's IUD Program Remains Confident On Continuing, Still Seeking State Support

Bente Birkeland
Liz Romer, a nurse practioner and director of the family planning program for Children's Hospital Colorado is looking over a list of patient appointments with Rebecca Cohen M.D.

Despite state lawmakers failing to pass a bill to fund the effort, a program to provide long acting reversible birth control to young, low-income women in Colorado is being extended for another year.

The long acting contraceptives, according to state figures, have helped cut teen pregnancy rates in the state by 40 percent. Abortions have gone down too.

For the past five years, a private anonymous grant has allowed about 40 health clinics across the state to provide intrauterine devices and other long acting reversible birth control to women ranging from ages 15-to-25.

"We're astounded by what we were able to accomplish and the number of women we were able to see, as well as the number of patients who chose the long acting reversible contraception," said Liz Romer, a nurse practitioner who directs the family program for Children's Hospital Colorado.

Costs for an intrauterine device or implant usually range between $500 to $1,000. Many of the patients are uninsured and can't afford the devices; others don't want to go through insurance companies because they don't want their parents to find out.

"What the grant allowed us to do was to buy the devices, these aren't cheap," said Romer. "But when you weigh the cost of a device against the cost of a pregnancy they pale in comparison."

Anita Sheetz, a certified nurse midwife with the Mesa County Health Department Family clinic, said the clinics and the program are especially important in more rural areas.

"There are no resources available for our teens or their parents to access here in Mesa County. There's no identifiable teen friendly clinic," said Sheetz. "And we're trying to implement some major changes at the health department to make it a teen friendly clinic."

Without the private grant some clinics, such as Children's Hospital, say their funding will be cut in half.

"We actually put out an appeal saying look at the results and can you help makeup what we were trying to get from the state general fund and legislature," said Colorado Department of Public Health and the Environment Executive director Larry Wolk. "Other funders have stepped up and said we'd like to help you on an emergency, contingency or even a bridge basis so that we can get through this next year."

Wolk does want to come back to the state Legislature in 2016 and try to get the $5 million needed to again fund the program through the state - and even expand it to more clinics that serve lower income young women.

"It's good public investment," said Wolk. "It's not fair that we have to keep going to the private or foundation community to fund something that is saving the state money."

While Democrats backed the measure, many Republicans voted against it.

"I like the idea right now that it's educational and giving options to women," said Representative Polly Lawrence (R-Roxborough Park). "I'm fine with it existing under private funding."

Lawrence doesn't want the state to fund it and voted against the bill during the 2015 legislative session, saying it would be less efficient.

"Because we didn't fully fund it from the state, private money is coming in," said Lawrence. "That tells me there is a desire in the private sector to fund this and I don't see what the state needs to step in."

For some other Republican Party members, the problem was the program itself, they believe providing contraception encourages promiscuity. The proposal cleared the Democratic controlled House and failed in the Republican held Senate.

CDPHE's Larry Wolk points to another concern.

"One of the criticisms from the GOP was that the Affordable Care Act was supposed to pay for these devices, so 'why should we pay twice?' What we found was that a lot of insurance companies aren't complying with the Affordable Care Act to cover these."

Not every GOP lawmaker was against the program. Representative Don Coram (R-Montrose) sponsored the funding bill. He's a strong backer but doesn't think he can convince enough of his colleagues to support it next session.

Credit Bente Birkeland / RMCR
Liz Romer in her Aurora, Colo., clinic which has provided 6,000 IUDs to low-income women through the course of previous grant funding.

"I wouldn't expect a lot of change, with that said, this program is very, very positive in my district. I had real solid Republicans come to me and say 'thank you for running the bill,'" said Coram.

For people working within the program like Liz Romer at Children's Hospital, where the funding comes is less of a concern than making sure it continues to help more women avoid an unintended pregnancy.

"The challenge is so much progress has been made that it doesn't make sense for Colorado to go back to the funding levels we had before," said Romer.

For now, it appears the money is not in jeopardy, at least for the next year.

Editor's Note: This story's headline was updated June 29, 2015 based on new information from the Colorado Department of Public Health and the Environment. Originally, the headline read 'Colorado's IUD Program Finds Another Year Of Funding, Still Seeking State Support.' The CDPHE has clarified that as of this date, they have not yet secured the private funding in question. The new headline reflects this change and that the CDPHE is confident that the program will continue one way or another.

Bente Birkeland has been reporting on state legislative issues for KUNC and Rocky Mountain Community Radio since 2006. Originally, from Minnesota, Bente likes to hike and ski in her spare time. She keeps track of state politics throughout the year but is especially busy during the annual legislative session from January through early May.
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