What is reproductive health?
Reproductive health encompasses so much more than pregnancies or lack thereof. According to the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, female reproductive health refers to the condition of female reproductive systems during all life stages including preconception, post-child birth and menopause. Reproductive health also takes into account the complete physical, social and mental well-being of the individual. That said, reproductive health has three main components and family planning is one of them.
The United Nations Population Fund defines family planning as the information, means and methods that allow individuals to decide if, when and how (naturally, using assisted reproductive technology, adoption, gestational carrier services) to have children as well as how many. It also includes individuals who want or need contraceptive care to prevent, limit or space out their pregnancies.
For individuals who want to avoid or intentionally space out their pregnancies, several contraceptive care methods are available to them such as, oral contraceptive pills, implantable devices, injectable hormones, intravaginal and intrauterine devices. Options also include non-hormonal methods such as condoms, the calendar method, abstinence and surgical procedures for permanent sterilization. It should be noted that these options are selected based on preference, as some are considered permanent sterilization procedures while others are reversible (short acting and long acting).
On the other hand, family planning also applies to individuals who are looking to begin their family-building journey or those who are struggling to become pregnant due to infertility which, in the case of female infertility, could be caused by conditions such as polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) or endometriosis. Infertility treatments for infertility may include intrauterine insemination (IUI) and in vitro fertilization (IVF). Other options include adoption and gestational carrier services.
An estimated 120 million women wish to space out and limit their pregnancies but lack access to family planning resources and benefits. It is imperative then for plan sponsors to provide members easier access to family planning services through their benefit structure, inclusive of family-building methods and contraceptive care.
Providing improved access to reproductive services, including fertility benefits, also allows employers to reap the benefits of top talent acquisition by attracting more diversity, equity and inclusion in the workplace. According to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, contraceptive pills had a positive impact on female representation and productivity by contributing to a significant increase in the proportion of women and the number of hours worked.
Moreover, convenient access to family planning benefits results in reduced health care costs; for every dollar spent on contraceptive care, the U.S. health care system saves almost six dollars. On the other end, births stemming from unintended pregnancies result in approximately $12.5 billion in government expenditures in the U.S.
Plan sponsors can start by ensuring that members have access to and awareness of contraceptive care options and should consider providing fertility and family planning benefits for their population.