Ward told members of the state's Intergenerational Poverty Advisory Committee Wednesday that access to birth control is among the most effective ways to get women and children out of poverty, and he wants to give people options if they're not looking to get pregnant.
He said the program would also help the state because it's expected to save taxpayer money spent on Medicaid, the government insurance program for the poor. Medicaid is Utah's most expensive social program, and it pays the costs of about one-third of all births in Utah.
The state's poor, childless adults are generally not eligible for Medicaid coverage, but women can become eligible when they get pregnant, with the program paying for costs of pregnancy, birth and insurance for the woman and child afterward.
His plan would cover the costs of birth control that require a visit to a doctor, such as pills or intrauterine devices but not condoms. It would not cover abortions.
Ward's plan is estimated to cost Utah about $1 million annually but save $9.6 million over five years, said Jessica Sanders the director of family planning research at the University of Utah's medical school.
Sanders said the program is also estimated to prevent about 2,000 unintended pregnancies and 680 abortions, and help 8,000 women who live below the poverty level, generally earning about $12,000 annually or less.
She said the plan could make a big difference for low-income women and families who otherwise forgo birth control because of the costs. An average woman can face monthly copayments for birth control pills that range from $15 to $50, Sanders said, and devices like IUDs can be costly without insurance, up to about $1,000 each.
"Contraception becomes a basic pocketbook issue for many of these women and families," she said.
Ward said legislators considered the plan earlier this year. GOP Gov. Gary Herbert proposed funding it in his budget, but it didn't get approved as legislators instead sent money to other programs.