British Columbia will be the first province or territory to make prescription contraception free from April 1, a move that one expert says offers “a beacon of hope” for the rest of the country.
This week’s provincial budget allocated $119 million over the next three years to cover out-of-pocket costs for prescription contraceptives, including oral hormonal pills, birth control injections, subdermal implants, copper and hormonal IUDs, and Plan B, the morning-after pill. to eliminate.
Treasury Secretary Katrine Conroy said removing the cost barriers will help prevent unwanted pregnancies and give more people more control over their reproductive health.
“These fundamental rights are under attack all too often,” she said as she introduced the budget in the legislature on Tuesday. “Not Here in BC”
The county estimates this measure could save someone who pays $25 a month for hormonal birth control pills up to $10,000 over their lifetime. IUDs, which last between three and 10 years, can cost about $500 each without private insurance coverage.
And according to a 2010 study by Options for Sexual Health, BC could save up to $95 million annually in healthcare and social costs. According to a 2016 study published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, about one in five women in Canada will have an unwanted pregnancy.
Public health experts and advocates say the measure will give people more choice in their reproductive health and should set an example for the rest of Canada.
“This policy is really timely. I’m excited how the government has done this in such a broad way,” said Dr. Ruth Habte, an obstetric and gynecology physician at the University of British Columbia and organizer with nonprofit AccessBC, which has been advocating free prescription contraception since 2017.
Starting April 1, people seeking birth control will need to present a doctor’s prescription and their MSP card to a pharmacist to waive the cost.
And in May, pharmacists can start prescribing and dispensing contraception directly to patients as the government expands their practice to ease the burden on GPs.
Prescription birth control is used to prevent unwanted pregnancies and may also be prescribed for serious health problems in people with uteri, including endometriosis, painful periods, uterine fibroids, and polycystic ovarian syndrome. It is different from the prescription drug Mifegymiso for medical abortion, which has been available for free in BC since 2018.
Last year, BC announced that prescription contraceptives would be covered by PharmaCare, the public medicine plan for low-income or those with income or disability.
Habte said expanding free prescription birth control to everyone will make it easier for all low- and middle-income earners and those in abusive relationships or controlling households to avoid unwanted pregnancies and take care of their health.
“Many don’t have any control over the money in their household, so it’s incredibly impressive for them to have free access to that contraceptive of their choice,” says Habte. An unwanted pregnancy significantly increases the risk of partner violence and can further bind the pregnant partner to their abusive partner or situation, she noted.
But prescription contraception, such as medical or surgical abortions, is still more difficult to access for people living in smaller communities and rural areas.
GPs or pharmacists may not want to prescribe contraception, and stigma may prevent patients who know their healthcare provider personally from asking for it. Visiting a pharmacy regularly to get their medicines can be a challenge for people in remote areas.
And this measure will not help people new to BC, including temporary foreign workers and refugees who apply, until their three-month MSP waiting period is over.
Habte said limited access to birth control and abortion care is resulting in more unwanted pregnancies and serious health problems requiring expensive hospital care.
“Patients who don’t have MSP and become pregnant often can’t afford an abortion…so our health care system provides the emergency care needed to deliver a baby for someone who didn’t have and hadn’t had health insurance. have been able to get an abortion or even contraception,” says Habte.
“That person could have avoided such a stressful, life-changing experience if they had access to birth control to begin with.”
Habte hopes the policy will soon include people who don’t have MSP coverage and pave the way for ongoing free birth control campaigns in Ontario and Manitoba.
“This should be as comprehensive a policy as possible,” she said. “I hope other provinces will follow.”