Free contraception should be province’s Plan A
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In their March 7 budget, Manitoba’s Progressive Conservatives announced a meaningful change to health coverage that lives up to the party’s name: it’s both socially progressive and, in the long term, fiscally conservative.
The government announced that Pharmacare coverage for insulin pumps will be extended to all eligible adults with either Type 1 or 2 diabetes; previous coverage cut off at age 25.
In a province where it’s projected 12 per cent of the population will have been diagnosed with Type 1 or 2 diabetes by 2032, this just makes sense. Diabetes has a host of serious medical complications; lowering the financial barriers to allow people to take better control of the condition not only improves their outcomes, it lightens the future burden on the health-care system: win-win.
This common-sense approach to health care inspires hope that Manitoba might also follow in the footsteps of British Columbia, which just announced that as of April 1, prescription birth control will be available free of charge.
The province will cover the cost of four common methods of birth control: oral hormone pills, commonly known as the pill; subdermal injections and implants; copper and hormonal intrauterine devices, also known as IUDs; and Plan B (the morning-after pill).
A doctor’s visit will still be required initially, but as early as May, pharmacists will be able to issue prescriptions for these forms of contraception with no age limit or financial-means test.
Dr. Teale Phelps Bondaroff, who is spearheading similar campaigns in Manitoba, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, told the CBC: “It’s going to transform reproductive health in the province, and my hope is that this makes British Columbia a beacon of hope for reproductive justice across Canada and further afield.”
The word “justice” is key in that statement, as unequal access to birth control is already widening the divide between the haves and have-nots in this country; young people who go through with unplanned pregnancies are less likely to complete their schooling and more likely to require social assistance.
Recent Canadian studies point to the cost of contraceptive methods as the biggest barrier to effective family planning; those who are unable to afford birth control are also the least likely to have private insurance to cover it.
The upfront cost of a hormonal IUD can top $300; a prescription for the pill is about $25 a month. This means many women, transgender and non-binary people, especially newcomers or those who are precariously employed, turn to cheaper and less effective means of birth control, such as condoms, which are about 82 per cent effective when used correctly, compared with 90 per cent for the pill and 99 per cent for IUDs.
According to the Guttmacher Institute, a research and policy organization committed to advancing sexual and reproductive health and rights worldwide, in Canada between 2015 and 2019, there were a total of 570,000 pregnancies. Of these, 265,000 were unintended; 97,500 ended in abortion.
No only do postpartum patients often suffer painful physical symptoms, serious medical conditions and profound psychological distress, babies born of unintended pregnancies are more likely to be premature, which also results in higher costs to the medical system.
The B.C. program will cost the province about $119 million over three years; it’s estimated that there is a $90 return on every dollar invested in free contraception.
That should be incentive enough for Manitoba’s PCs to make a progressive decision that could improve the lives of Manitobans while saving money in the long run. Win-win.