The Michigan Contraceptive Access, Research, and Evaluation Study (M-CARES), led by PI Martha Bailey, has received a grant commitment of up to $5.9 million from the Laura and John Arnold Foundation to study the implications of improving financial access to reproductive health services. Martha Bailey is a Professor of Economics and Research Professor at the Population Studies Center (PSC) housed within the Institute of Social Research.

As part of an initiative to support evidence-based policy and innovation, M-CARES will use a randomized intervention with large-scale administrative data to quantify the short- and long-term effects of reducing financial barriers to reproductive health care. “Access to reproductive health care is only our starting point,” Bailey explained. This study will examine how women’s lives can change when they have greater financial access to family planning services. Unplanned pregnancies can limit women’s education, employment and career advancement or increase reliance on public assistance. This may reduce children’s opportunities and contribute to the cycle of poverty.”

Researchers hope to learn whether providing lower cost family planning services reduces the rates of unintended pregnancy and childbearing, and improves women’s physical and mental health. In addition, researchers will examine the impact of subsidies on women’s education levels, experience in the workplace, earnings, and use of assistance and programs.

These questions are especially pertinent in the current policy environment surrounding reproductive health care. After the November 2016 election, the new administration proposed significant funding cuts for family planning care, through reductions in Medicaid and Title X funding. These cuts threaten access to reproductive health care for millions of American women.

“The proposed changes could eliminate services for 8 million women served through public funding,” Bailey said. “A repeal of the Affordable Care Act could also increase costs for women with private insurance if the contraceptive mandate is eliminated.” The Alan Guttmacher Institute estimates that the elimination of public funding for family planning services would increase rates of unintended pregnancy in the U.S. by 68 percent—and that public cost of those births could increase by 75 percent.

M-CARES aims to provide estimates of the consequences of eliminating funding for family planning services by quantifying the differences in various life outcomes for women who do and do not receive subsidies for contraceptives. The study will enroll several thousand women and survey them over a period of five years.

Bailey is joined by a team of leading experts at the University of Michigan, including Jennifer Barber, Professor of Sociology and Research Professor at the PSC, Vanessa Dalton, Associate Chair of Research in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology and the Medical Director at Planned Parenthood of Michigan, Daniel Eisenberg, Professor in the Department of Health Management and Policy in the School of Public Health and a Research Professor at the PSC, and Alfia Karimova, Assistant Research Scientist at the PSC.

Press Release written by Morgan Sherburne, Martha Bailey, Alfia Karimova, and Stephanie Hart.