British Columbians now have access to free prescription contraceptives.
As of April 1, PharmaCare will pay for many different types of birth control for any B.C. resident, making British Columbia the first province in Canada to cover these costs.
AccessBC organizer and UBC resident physician Dr. Ruth Habte says it is a "really exciting day." AccessBC had been pushing for contraception to be covered by PharmaCare for years.
"Anyone with valid MSP coverage can go into a pharmacy and get a variety of different contraceptive products available at no cost to them," she said."It’s a great policy that really helps the bottom line of those people who often have to front the cost of this medication."
People will still need a prescription from a doctor, nurse practitioner or midwife at a walk-in clinic, hospital or through a street nurse program.
Once the prescription is presented at a pharmacy, along with the BC Services Card, the pharmacist will fill the prescription and the pharmacy will be directly reimbursed by BC PharmaCare, resulting in no charge to a person with a prescription. Later this spring, pharmacists will be able to prescribe contraceptives as part of a B.C. plan to expand pharmacists' scope of practice.
Dr. Habte, who previously worked as a pharmacist, said she has seen firsthand how badly an unplanned pregnancy can impact a person's life.
"So when the government comes up with a policy like this that’s cost-saving and helps the everyday British Columbian, I’m incredibly excited about it.”
BC PharmaCare will cover the full cost of more than 60 commonly used birth-control methods. People generally pay up to $25 a month for hormonal pills, or up to $300 a year. Hormone injections can cost as much as $180 per year and longer-lasting IUDs anywhere from $75 to $500. For someone who pays $25 a month, the new free plan could save them as much as $10,000 over their lifetime.
Dr. Habte says while the most popular types of birth control are covered, there are some that are not. Those uncovered birth control methods will still be available, but the customer may have to pay the difference not covered by the government.
"Things that are noticeably missing are Ella, which is a more effective version of the morning-after pill. As well, there’s a contraceptive pill that’s really popular in Vancouver called Lolo," she explained.
"And then the two methods that are not covered are the vaginal ring and the transdermal patch. Those are four noticeable things missing, but we’re hoping for a continued expansion of the policy."
Outside of pregnancy, Dr. Habte says birth control has other benefits for women, including relieving pelvic pain, heavy menstrual bleeding, fibroids, and many other conditions.
"We also know that a policy like this actually saves the government money in the long term, so it’s really beneficial for everybody.”
Habte says prescription contraceptives are a lot cheaper for the government than pregnancy would be. This would include miscarriage costs, abortion costs, prenatal care, labor and delivery costs, and postnatal care, all of which are covered by the provincial government.