N.S. sexual health clinic can no longer give free birth control to patients in need

Click to play video: 'Trudeau says pharmacare plan will cover birth control, diabetes medication in Canada'
Trudeau says pharmacare plan will cover birth control, diabetes medication in Canada
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said in Toronto, Ont., on Thursday that as the federal government moves forward with national single-payer pharmacare, the programme will cover two specific areas of medications. “First is contraceptives, making sure that women right across this country can choose when they want to start a family, have power over their path, whatever their path is, and not have cost, be a barrier to that,” Trudeau said. “Second, we're moving forward on diabetes medications because we know that it's a huge issue faced by millions of Canadians.” – Mar 7, 2024

A Halifax sexual health clinic that has for years been making birth control devices available for free to patients who can’t afford them has been forced to stop after running out of donations.

Dr. Lianne Yoshida, the medical co-director of the Reproductive Options and Services Clinic, said for the past four years the centre has used donated money to purchase contraceptive implants and intrauterine devices (IUDs) for patients who don’t have adequate health coverage. The clinic been giving out, on average, one free contraceptive device a day, Monday through Friday, the doctor said.

“Say if a patient came in for an abortion, and when they were counselled about contraception they identified that they like this type (of birth control), and if their barrier was only the money, then we could provide it for them.”

These quickly reversible birth control options cost between $350 and $420, and can prevent pregnancy for between three and 10 years.

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“We’ve run out of our donations, we’ve spent it all,” Yoshida said, adding that the last IUD the clinic had in its “compassionate use” stock was given out on Friday.

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Yoshida said it would appear there has been an uptick in patients who say they cannot afford these types of birth control, though she didn’t have data available to confirm that. The doctor said financial pressures have always played a role in family planning and contraceptive choices, but even more so these days “as the cost of living, housing, everything is just that much more of an issue now.”

The federal government’s universal pharmacare legislation would cover IUDs and contraceptive implants, but Yoshida said she’s concerned about her patients who can’t afford birth control options while they wait to benefit from the coverage.

“I was so happy to hear about (universal pharmacare legislation), but of course there’s going to be a gap in time, and the need is still there,” she said.

Anne Génier, a spokesperson with Health Canada, said in an emailed statement the timing of pharmacare’s implementation will depend on agreements with provinces and territories.

Yoshida said she is hopeful donations pick up in the meantime so the clinic can resume providing IUDs and contraceptive implants to those who can’t afford them until pharmacare is rolled out.

Nova Scotia Health Department spokesperson Khalehla Perrault said in an emailed statement the government has been in touch with the reproductive options clinic “to understand the situation and identify areas of concern.”

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“However, we would like to note that Nova Scotia’s pharmacare program currently covers contraception prescription, and the insertion of an IUD is an insured service in Nova Scotia.”

But not everyone is eligible for the provincial pharmacare program, Yoshida said, which is described by the province as offering “protection against drug costs for families who have no drug coverage or if the cost of the prescription drugs becomes a financial burden to them.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 11, 2024.

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