New Westminster city council is urging the province to support universal no-cost access to all prescription contraception – just in time for World Contraception Day.
At its Sept. 14 meeting, council unanimously passed a motion by Coun. Nadine Nakagawa calling on the provincial government to cover all prescription contraception at no cost under the B.C. Medical Services Plan.
“Contraception is a critical health need,” Nakagawa said. “It is not covered in the same way that other prescription medications are covered.”
Nakagawa commended advocates from Access B.C. who have worked on advocating for this “much-needed” health service.
According to Access B.C., an intrauterine device (IUD) can cost between $75 and $380, oral contraceptive pills can cost $20 per month, and hormone injections can cost as much as $180 per year. The group, which formed in 2017 to advocate for the removal of barriers to accessing prescription contraception, says these costs are such that too many B.C. residents use less effective methods of contraception – or simply go without.
Nakagawa’s motion states cost is a significant barrier to people accessing contraception, particularly people with low incomes, youth and people from marginalized communities. It also states that providing free prescription contraception has been shown to improve health outcomes for parents and infants by reducing the risks associated with unintended pregnancy and it is likely to reduce direct medical costs on the provincial health system.
According to the motion approved by council, contraceptive methods such as condoms or vasectomies are available at low cost, no cost or are covered by B.C.’s Medical Services Plan, whereas all contraceptive methods for people with uteruses (such as birth control pills, intrauterine devices or hormone injections) have high up-front costs, making access to contraception unequal and gendered.
“I am thrilled to see New Westminster reflect the voice of its citizens and pass this motion," said New West resident Jessica L. Jimmo, a member of the AccessBC campaign for free prescription contraception in B.C. “Universal no-cost prescription contraception as a policy just makes good sense, and the social, fiscal, health and equity benefits are irrefutable. There are an incredible number of reasons why this policy is long overdue but now, during COVID, we cannot delay making sure those who have uteruses have free and universal access to the necessary medication to control when, if and how they become pregnant.”
New Westminster is the sixth municipality in B.C. to endorse universal, no-cost coverage of prescription contraception. Vancouver, Victoria, Burnaby, Kimberley and Squamish have also passed motions on this front.
“Access to contraception is a critical part of our health-care system, yet we see that MSP coverage is a highly gendered issue,” Nakagawa said in an AccessBC press release. “Including contraception under MSP will expand access and provide better health outcomes. It’s the right thing to do.”
During the Sept. 22 to 24 Union of B.C. Municipalities convention, delegates considered resolutions from Victoria and Burnaby, which asked the provincial government to make prescription contraception in B.C. available at no cost under MSP.
“People with uteruses are often paying hundreds of dollars out of pocket for contraception,” said Devon Black, co-founder of AccessBC. “Meanwhile, vasectomies are covered by B.C.’s Medical Services Plan and condoms are handed out for free. That kind of structural inequality is just not acceptable in 2020.”
World Contraception Day, held every Sept. 26, envisions a world where every pregnancy is wanted.
“Programs that offer free prescription contraception have been shown to save significantly more money than they cost to put in place. The cost of providing prescription contraception is considerably lower than the costs of unintended pregnancy,” said Teale Phelps Bondaroff, who also co-founded AccessBC. “At a time when the government is looking for ways to respond to the cost impacts of COVID-19, this is a creative solution that would save money while improving health outcomes for B.C. residents.”