WASHINGTON — The Department of Veterans Affairs could save about $2 million a year in prenatal, birth and newborn care costs by offering female veterans a year’s supply of birth control pills, researchers say.

The VA does not currently offer an upfront 12-month supply option. Approximately 24,000 women receive oral contraceptives and a policy change could prevent an estimated 583 unintended pregnancies, found Colleen Judge-Golden, an M.D., Ph.D. student at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine.

“We see extended contraceptive dispensing as a win-win,” Judge-Golden said, “promoting women’s health and women’s autonomy to use birth control as they decide, while also being economically sustainable for the VA.”

Judge-Golden, the lead author of the paper published Monday in the Journal of the American Medical Association, analyzed the expense of the proposed program with senior author Sonya Borrero, M.D., M.S., the associate director of the VA’s Center for Health Equity Research and Promotion. Research found that money saved on health care costs would exceed the cost of providing larger upfront quantities of birth control pills to women.

Forty-three percent of women receiving three-month increments of birth control will encounter at least one refill gap over a 12-month period that increases the risk of unintended pregnancies, VA data showed. Women outside of the VA who receive one year’s worth of birth control pills were alternatively found to experience fewer refill gaps and less pregnancies.

“This is a great opportunity for the VA to roll out this policy change on a national level and continue to be a leader and set an elevated standard for women’s health care,” said Borrero, who serves as director of the University of Pittsburgh’s Center for Women’s Health Research and Innovation.

Many health care providers prefer to write prescriptions gradually so that patients more regularly check in with their providers, VA’s Chief Consultant for Women’s Health Services Dr. Patty Hayes stated. Refills are sent through the mail and can be acquired via phone, secure messages or online without arranging a trip or appointment, Hayes stated.

“Because life plans and health can change quickly, VA encourages women Veterans [sic] to be engaged with their VA providers more than once a year,” Hayes stated.

Insurers are required by law to cover a year’s supply of contraceptives in 17 states and the District of Columbia, the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation stated.