Universal contraceptives? B.C. premier says province open to the idea
VANCOUVER -- B.C. Premier John Horgan says his government is open to funding universal, publicly funded contraception as advocates insist the program could actually save money in the long run.
At an unrelated press conference, Horgan was asked what he thought about funding such a program.
"We're certainly looking at mechanisms to make life more affordable for British Columbians, and that would be one of them," he responded.
The premier then handed the question to Adrian Dix, the health minister. Dix talked about the government expanding supports through the Pharmacare program, which helps low-income earners with low-cost or free prescriptions.
When it comes to contraceptives, Dix said, the province is "looking at the PharmaCare system to make improvements."
PharmaCare helps low-income British Columbians. Options for Sexual Health clinics also provide access to cheaper contraception.
For advocates like Devon Black, the co-founder of the group AccessBC, that's simply not good enough. She says while it's good to have programs, the reality is that requiring people to prove their incomes, and knowing who's eligible or not, is often confusing and leading to people not accessing support.
"Even though there are programs in place that can assist some people in accessing contraception there are still people falling through the cracks," she told CTV News via Skype.
The pill can cost $20 a month or more – and other options can run in the hundreds of dollars. For those in rural areas, finding a doctor to even get a prescription can be an issue, said Black.
She also pointed to a study by Options for Sexual Health from 2010. It estimated helping half a million women with free contraception -- would cost the province roughly $50 million a year.
Those numbers are almost a decade old, and the cost now, would likely be much more. The study didn't look at the cost of setting up the program. Still, Black says, the evidence is overwhelming.
"As much as these programs cost, they save exponentially more money."
That claim is backed up by research from the U.K. and U.S. Plus, a Canadian study from 2015 – published in a medical journal – showed it’s cheaper to provide free contraceptives to all Canadian women than to deal with the cost of unintended pregnancies, by a margin of 2:1.
"Some people choose to get abortions, which is certainly more expensive than contraception, but for people who decide to go through with their pregnancies, unplanned pregnancies are frequently more complex," said Black.
With evidence lining up that such a program could save money in the long-run, and pressure increasing on the province, the government is signaling it could be interested in such a program. An all-party committee that conducted consultations on next year's budget encouraged the government take a phased approach to universal access to no-cost contraceptives.
A statement from the Ministry of Health said: “We are always looking to improve British Columbians access to the care they need, and will continue to consider proposals including creating universal access to contraception.”
The NDP has reported its surplus is shrinking and faces cost pressures and other demands for funding.
For Black, the numbers add up. AccessBC also argues this is a gender equity issue, with contraceptive costs often falling to women.
"In our perspective, this is an idea that is long past due."