The new Liletta intra-uterine device (Courtesy of Medicines360)
Zoe Reiches got her first IUD this August — a new model with the lilting name Liletta.
Reiches, 25 and a human resources specialist in Boston, is now happily set for birth control for at least three years. “It’s convenient, I don’t have to worry about it, and I didn’t have to pay for it because of insurance,” she said. “I’m lucky in that sense.”
Millions more American women share her luck now that Obamacare has mandated birth control coverage with no co-pays for most insurers.
But the Liletta, which is just starting to roll out at clinics and hospitals here in Boston and around the country, is not only a device for the lucky — quite the opposite.
Its whole reason for being is to serve poor and uninsured women, to make IUDs — which can cost $1,000 or more — affordable to all, and available on demand at publicly funded health centers.
“This has never been done before,” said Jessica Grossman, the new CEO of Medicines360, the nonprofit pharmaceutical company behind the Liletta. “Our whole mission is to offer this low-cost product.”
Very low cost, compared to the usual thousand-plus dollars. At least until the end of the year, a special program guarantees that insured women who get a Liletta will pay no more than $75 out of pocket for it, Grossman said. A permanent patient assistance program will also provide Lilettas for free to women who qualify.
‘Hey, I want an IUD and I want it now. I want it to be available to me today. I don’t want to come back.’
And, behind the scenes but even more important, public health clinics can order the Liletta for a mere $50 each.
In Massachusetts, all six Planned Parenthood clinics have begun to stock the Liletta, and it’s starting to enter “formularies” — the approved prescription lists — from major hospitals to cash-strapped community health clinics. Medicines360 reports shipping Liletta to 49 states, with more than half of the devices going to clinics that serve low-income patients.
The idea is to make the devices affordable enough that clinics can stock plenty, Grossman said, so that a woman can come in and say, “’Hey, I want an IUD and I want it now. I want it to be available to me today. I don’t want to come back.’ ”
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The Liletta is the latest chapter in the story of the great resurgence of IUDs in the United States, featuring billionaire investor Warren Buffett in a key cameo.
A New York City subway sign that is part of the new “Maybe the IUD” campaign (Courtesy of Dr. Deborah Kaplan)
After the 1970s debacle of the Dalkon shield, which caused infections and even a few deaths, IUDs fell almost completely out of use among American women. Then, in 2001, a new, hormone-emitting device came on the market — the Mirena.
IUDs steadily gained popularity as a relatively safe, set-and-forget, long-acting but reversible option for many women. (As a no-complaints Mirena user for a decade, I’m one of them.)
More than 10 percent of American women who use birth control now choose IUDs, the most recent data show — the Mirena or the Skyla, which emit tiny amounts of hormones, or a simpler copper IUD, the Paragard.
The latest evidence of the IUD’s full rehabilitation: New York City’s Health Department this week launched its “Maybe the IUD” campaign to encourage New York women to consider an IUD.
The campaign talks about “reproductive justice,” reflecting in part a troubling trend: Unintended pregnancy is increasingly a poor woman’s problem. Look at the trend in the Guttmacher chart below: Continue reading