All Canadian youth should have free access to contraceptives, according to a new position statement by the Canadian Paediatric Society.
The society, which advocates on behalf of Canadian pediatricians, is recommending that all contraceptives — including condoms — for youth under 25 years old be covered by provincial health plans.
They also recommend that health ministries provide contraceptives at no cost to community health centres and programs that serve youth in order to make them easier to access. Private insurers should also pay for birth control for youth and keep the payments confidential from the plan owner — like a parent — said the CPS.
“Most adolescent pregnancies in Canada are unintended,” reads the position statement. “Unintended pregnancies may derail life plans, particularly for adolescents and young adults. Adolescent parenting is associated with lower lifetime educational achievement, lower income and increased reliance on social support programs.”
More than a quarter of youth who do not wish to be pregnant don’t use contraception every time they have sex, according to the CPS. Cost, the organization says, is one of the biggest barriers.
IUDs, which the Canadian Paediatric Society recommends as the best birth control option for young people, are very effective but have a high upfront cost, said Dr. Giosi Di Meglio, an associate professor of pediatrics at McGill University and a co-author of the position statement.
“When they’re having to pay for it out of pocket, they would use less reliable methods,” Di Meglio explained.
For example, teens who have only an allowance or a part-time job can have trouble affording a monthly dispensing fee for birth control pills, she said.
“One of the things that we often see happening is that they’re due to renew the prescription and they don’t have cash. And so they just wait it out and they might miss a month or they might start late, and that exposes you to becoming pregnant,” Di Meglio added.
In a 2014 study of U.S. teenagers, providing a group of youth free contraception significantly reduced their rate of teen pregnancy, birth and abortion compared to the U.S. average.
Paying for contraception for all Canadian women, regardless of age, would cost public health plans about $157 million per year, according to the paper. But it would also save an estimated $320 million in direct costs related to unintended pregnancy.
“It costs (women) and it costs us as a society a lot when they get pregnant and they don’t want to be pregnant,” Di Meglio said.
And it’s not realistic to assume young people will simply not have sex when they don’t have a condom or other contraceptive at hand, she added.
“While I would say that I would want them to be responsible and to not have sex if they can’t protect themselves from pregnancy, that’s not how the world works.”