Lower Circumcision Rates Could Mean Increased Health Care Costs

Studies link circumcision with numerous health benefits: the procedure is associated with lower risks of urinary tract infections in babies and young boys, and reductions in men's risk of contracting HIV, genital herpes and human papillomavirus (HPV); it may also help reduce the odds of penile and prostate cancers. By reducing the burden of sexually transmitted infections among men, it may also help keep more women infection-free as well.

If circumcision rates were to drop from the current 55% to 10%, urinary tract infections in baby boys may rise a whopping 212%, and in men, HIV infections could increase by 12%, HPV infections by 29% and herpes simplex virus type 2 by 20%. In women, dropping rates of male circumcision could increase cases of bacterial vaginosis by 18% and low-risk HPV by 13%.

As gaps in insurance coverage increasingly lead parents to opt out of circumcision, the researchers say a drop to 10% is not unlikely — that's in line with circumcision rates in Europe, where the procedure is typically not covered by insurance. Medicaid programs in many states have eliminated coverage of the procedure: currently, 18 states no longer pay for it, with South Carolina and Colorado most recently ending coverage last year. According to the study authors, the rate of circumcision rates had remained steady at about 79% between 1970 and '80, but fell to 63% in 1999 and then dropped again to 55% in 2010.

Image: Newborn boy, via Shutterstock

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