Health department officials announced yesterday that they would cover the cost of providing the new Norplant birth-control device to women who do not qualify for Medicaid but who cannot afford to pay for the contraceptive themselves.
Funds to serve those women will come out of a grant from the Baltimore-based Abell Foundation to the state Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.
"This will help us take care of patients in the gray area," said Dr. Russell Moy, head of the state Office of Maternal Health and Family Planning. "We don't know what the demand will be, so we have set aside a small part of the grant, between $10,000 to $15,000."
Norplant, approved for domestic sales by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in December, is a system of six tubes the size of matchsticks that are injected under the skin of a woman's upper arm. The tubes release a trickle of contraceptive hormone into the bloodstream for five years but can be removed any time a woman wants to become fertile.
The Abell Foundation grant of $93,455 will provide for the development of educational programs forwomen of child-bearing age and training sessions about Norplant for health-care providers as well as covering the implant costs for low-income women. Dr. Moy said as many as 200,000 women might benefit from the state's earlier decision to make Norplant available to Medicaid recipients.
The state also has established the toll-free number 1-800-999-9625 to answer questions about Norplant.
Nelson J. Sabatini, acting director of the Maryland Department of Health and Human Hygiene, said, "We are not advocating a particular method. We want to make options available."
Mr. Sabatini said Medicaid would reimburse clinics $350 for the cost of the Norplant device and $75 for the doctors' fee. The federal government will pay 90 percent of the cost, he said, and the state will provide the remaining 10 percent.
The drug's wholesale cost is $350, but some local hospitals said they would charge as much as $850 to counsel patients and implant the device.
As with other health department services, the charge for Norplant will be on a sliding fee scale for those not on Medicaid. Eventually, all 70 health department sites statewide will offer Norplant, Mr. Sabatini said.