Free prescription contraception is a no-brainer, according to groups advocating its inclusion in February’s provincial budget.
A cost-benefit analysis conducted by Options for Sexual Health in 2010 estimates the B.C. government could save $95 million a year if it paid for universal access to prescription contraception.
It would also promote equality, giving young people and those with low incomes the same choices as those who are able to pay for their preferred method of contraception.
“Not all contraception works for everyone,” said Dr. Teale Phelps Bondaroff, committee chair and co-founder of the AccessBC campaign. “Money shouldn’t be a factor in deciding on the best option.”
The most effective contraception is often the most expensive up front: An intrauterine device, or IUD, can cost between $75 and $380, while oral contraceptive pills can cost $20 a month, and hormone injections can cost as much as $180 a year.
But that’s a small amount compared to an unplanned pregnancy, which can have a “huge ripple effect” on a woman’s life, particularly if she is already struggling to get by, said Patti MacAhonic, executive director of the Ann Davis Transition Society in Chilliwack.
“I think it’s a gender equity issue. Contraception costs usually fall on women, and if they become pregnant that often falls on them as well.”
MacAhonic said providing free prescription contraception would also reduce some of the stigma that still exists around birth control. School-age girls trying to get a prescription without their parents’ knowledge may be prevented by a lack of money.
In May, the Canadian Paediatric Society released a position statement identifying cost as a “significant barrier” to using contraception for youth.
“Many must pay out-of-pocket because they have no pharmaceutical insurance, their insurance does not cover the contraceptives they desire, or they wish to obtain contraceptives without their parents’ knowledge,” said the statement.
The society recommended all youth should have confidential access to contraception at no cost until age 25.
But B.C. advocates want the government to go further.
AccessBC pointed to several European countries that subsidize universal access to contraception in some way, including the United Kingdom, France, Spain, Sweden, Denmark, the Netherlands, Italy and Germany. Many programs are revenue-neutral when the cost of an unintended pregnancy is considered.
In 2015, a study in the Canadian Association Medical Journal estimated the cost of universal contraception in Canada would be $157 million, but the savings, in the form of the direct medical costs of unintended pregnancy, would be $320 million.
Options for Sexual Health executive director Michelle Fortin said that while the birth control pill remains relatively cheap, women might choose another method if the cost was the same.
“If you’re a student you may have to choose between a month of food or an IUD,” she said. “Finances continue to be a barrier.”
Fortin said a petition circulated at Options clinics across the province will be presented to the health minister in advance of the budget.
AccessBC is also urging people to write to their MLAs before February.
“We’re feeling optimistic. We have a lot of momentum,” said Phelps Bondaroff, noting the select standing committee on finance and government services recommended the government explore the issue.
“If it makes the budget, it will do great things. … It’s a win-win, a no-brainer.”
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