University of Manitoba medical students are asking the province to provide contraception to Manitobans for free.
"Manitobans face significant barriers when attempting to access contraceptives," said second-year medical student Alyssa Kidd.
She and fellow members of the student advocacy committee at the U of M's Max Rady College of Medicine have been meeting online with MLAs to pitch the benefits of providing universal access to birth control.
"The most prominent barrier, and potentially simplest to fix, is cost," Kidd said in an email.
Under universal coverage, Manitobans wouldn't have to deal with the costs of contraception that can be prohibitive, she said. "As a direct result, they will be free from the physical, emotional, and social consequences of unwanted pregnancy and will receive the numerous health benefits that contraceptives have to offer," Kidd said.
Michael Paille, a second-year medical student on the advocacy committee, said students annually meet with MLAs to advocate for a change that would affect the health of Manitobans.
"Contraception does more than prevent pregnancy. It can be used to treat conditions like cystic acne, severe menstrual bleeding and pain, polycystic ovarian syndrome, and endometriosis," Paille said in an email.
He cited federal modelling that shows eliminating the financial barrier to long-acting, reversible contraception, such as IUDs, increases the use of those methods, decreases the rate of unplanned pregnancies, and pays for itself within one year.
Across Canada, Paille said, unplanned pregnancies cost governments every year an estimated $61 million for those aged 15 to 19, and $320 million for those aged 18 to 44.
"The province already has a system in place through pharmacare to cover prescription medication," he said. "We would suggest amending this program to include all forms of contraception without the need to pay for a deductible." The estimated deductible for someone making the median income of $34,188 is $1,699.
Paille said the students will meet with members of the NDP caucus online Friday. On Thursday, they met virtually with Liberal and Progressive Conservative MLAs, including Families Minister Rochelle Squires.
"Minister Squires was in attendance for part of the meeting and provided us with tremendous positive feedback," said Paille. "She asked to have our research materials be sent to her directly and invited our group to have an additional meeting with her, considering she was pulled away for part of our presentation." The medical students were buoyed by the government's response.
"We were told that our research materials would be sent to the cabinet and specifically to the minister of health (Heather Stefanson) to have a look at," said Paille.
After 20 years of reporting on the growing diversity of people calling Manitoba home, Carol moved to the legislature bureau in early 2020.