The province unveiled its 2023 budget, which includes $119 million over the next three years for full coverage of prescription contraception. Starting April 1, 2023, the province has committed to covering the following prescription contraceptives:
– Oral hormone pills, commonly known as the pill.
– Subdermal (under-the-skin) injections and implants.
– Copper and intrauterine hormonal devices, also known as IUDs.
– Plan B, also known as the morning-after pill.
To access free contraception, government officials said starting in April, residents covered under B.C.’s Medical Services Plan must get a prescription from a family physician, then take it to their pharmacist. But starting as early as May, residents can get a contraception prescription directly from their pharmacist as part of an announcement last fall expanding pharmacists’ scope of practice.
Finance Minister Katrine Conroy said it was a priority for her government to help residents have control over their reproductive rights.
“All too often, these fundamental rights are under attack,” she said in her speech presenting the budget. “Not here in B.C.”
The province said that for a person who pays $25 a month for hormonal pills, the new free plan could save them as much as $10,000 over their lifetime.
“As the mother of two daughters and five granddaughters, I know the effect this is going to have on people’s lives in our province,” said Conroy.
“This is a win for health, and it’s a win for gender equity in our province.”
The allocation for free contraception by the BC government was only possible by because of grassroots mobilization by groups like Access BC and organizations like Action Canada for Sexual Health and Rights. In a time of significant attacks on abortion and reproductive health globally, this announcement is thrilling.
Why was this the right move?
According to Action Canada for Sexual Health and Rights
1 in 5 Canadians has insufficient or no drug coverage. This lack of coverage disproportionately affects marginalized communities with young people, 2SLGBTQ+ people, undocumented people, immigrants, and people of colour most likely to have difficulty accessing contraception or see their choices constrained.
An intrauterine device (IUD) can cost between $75 to $400, oral contraceptive pills can cost $20 per month (up to $240 a year), and hormone injections as much as $180 per year. These costs are a significant barrier to accessing contraception for many people across Canada and fall, particularly for women and people who can get pregnant. Access to contraceptives should NOT depend on what’s in our bank accounts or on patchwork insurance. What a massive win for reproductive justice in Canada.
Canada is the only country with universal health care that does not offer coverage for prescription drugs, including contraceptives. While some countries provide partial coverage, which reduces costs and helps ensure more people can access contraception, such reduced coverage still leaves many people behind. In New Zealand, where only partial coverage is offered, there are still high rates of unintended pregnancies, especially among marginalized people.
Roughly half of the pregnancies in Canada are unintended, costing the Canadian health systems millions of dollars annually. Studies have estimated that providing universal contraception coverage could see that entire amount saved in as little as six to twelve months.
Equitable access to contraception is a universal human right, and it is also a key to realizing public health goals, reducing healthcare costs and achieving gender equality and the empowerment of women and people who can be pregnant.
International Examples of Policies Providing Free or Subsidized Contraception and Their Impact
Several countries have implemented policies to provide free or subsidized contraception to their citizens. Here are a few examples and the impact they have had:
France: In 1974, France introduced free contraception for all women over the age of 18. The policy led to a significant decline in unintended pregnancies and a decrease in the number of abortions. Today, France has one of the lowest rates of unintended pregnancy in Europe. Remember the lower the unintended pregnancy rates means lower maternal and infant mortality rates, as well as lower healthcare costs.
Norway: In 2002, Norway introduced a new law that provided free contraception to women under the age of 20. The policy led to a significant decline in the number of unintended pregnancies and a decrease in the number of abortions. Today, Norway has one of the lowest rates of unintended pregnancy in Europe.
South Africa: In 2012, South Africa introduced a new policy to provide free condoms and other forms of contraception to its citizens. The policy was aimed at reducing the spread of HIV/AIDS and increasing access to essential healthcare products. Since the policy was introduced, the rate of HIV infections has decreased significantly.
Sweden: In 2016, Sweden introduced a new law that allowed women to access free contraception without a prescription. The policy was aimed at increasing access to contraception and reducing unintended pregnancies. Since the policy was introduced, the number of unplanned pregnancies has decreased by more than 30%.
Scotland: In 2020, Scotland became the first country in the world to make period products freely available to all. The policy was aimed at addressing period poverty and increasing access to essential healthcare products. The Scottish government has also committed to providing free access to contraception for everyone who needs it.
Reproductive health is a critical component of comprehensive healthcare. It encompasses a wide range of issues related to the reproductive system, including family planning, pregnancy and childbirth, sexually transmitted infections (STIs), and infertility. Access to quality reproductive healthcare services is essential for individuals to make informed decisions about their sexual and reproductive health and to maintain overall well-being. These examples demonstrate the significant positive impact that policies aimed at increasing access to contraception can have on a country’s health outcomes. By providing free or subsidized contraception, governments can help reduce unintended pregnancies, decrease the number of abortions, and improve overall reproductive health outcomes.