British Columbia will become the first province to offer prescribed contraceptives free of charge on Saturday, but not all options will be covered by the province’s new plan.
More than 60 commonly-used forms of birth control are included in the initiative, a move that’s being widely celebrated, and sparking calls for other jurisdictions to follow suit.
“This is a fantastic policy. We couldn’t be more excited,” said Teale Phelps Bondaroff, co-founder of AccessBC, which has long campaigned for the change.
“It’s a huge step for reproductive justice and it’s a huge way for improving people’s access to contraception.”
A list of covered contraceptives is available on the Ministry of Health’s website.
They include oral contraceptives, IUDs, hormone implants, hormone injections, and emergency oral contraceptives — like Plan B — for which no prescription is needed.
“We didn’t even think to ask for Plan B,” Phelps Bondaroff said. “It’s great to see that included in the policy.”
Phelps Bondaroff said he hopes B.C.’s move will inspire other provinces, territories, and the federal government to adopt a similar program.
Partially-covered oral contraceptives include Alesse 21 and 28, Marvelon 21 and 28, and Min-Ovral 21 and 28. Non-prescribed methods of birth control are not covered, such as cervical caps, diaphragms, sponges, patches, rings and condoms.
Brand name products may not be covered either.
“If a patient is taking a brand name contraceptive and PharmaCare covers the generic alternative, then PharmaCare will cover 100 percent of the cost of the generic alternative and the patient will be responsible for the difference,” reads a fact sheet provided by the province.
“For 100 per cent coverage, the patient can request that the prescriber or pharmacists change their prescription to the generic alternative.”
At a Friday news conference, Premier David Eby said the province is open to adding other contraceptives to the universal coverage program in the months and years to come.
“If there are areas that need to be covered — additions — we’ll always be looking at that as technology improves and options improve for people who need birth control,” he said.
The trailblazing program, confirmed with the release of last month’s budget, is expected to cost $119 million over three years.
The province estimates it could save someone taking birth control pills up to $25 per month or $300 per year, while a person taking hormonal injections could save roughly $35 per injection or $140 per year. Residents opting for IUDs can save the initial cost of around $380.
As part of the program, pharmacists will also be able to prescribe most contraceptives. Amendments to the Pharmacists Regulation are expected to take effect on June 1.
Eby said this initiative will go a long way for folks without a family doctor, who can also obtain prescriptions from nurse practitioners, midwives or doctors at walk-in clinics, hospitals or street nurse programs.
“We have an important initiative to get more British Columbians family doctors, but don’t let that stand in the way of going to a sexual health clinic in your community to access this important service,” he said.
“We know that access to health care is always a challenge in rural communities … There are very few small communities in the province that don’t have access to a pharmacist.”
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