Health-care providers are calling Saturday a “historic step for health care” in British Columbia, as the province begins offering free access to birth control.
Six different contraceptive methods are impacted, including IUDs, hormone injections and the morning-after pill.
In North Vancouver, Dr. Shideh Shadfar hadn’t seen any customers looking for the free birth control at her pharmacy by mid-afternoon, but believes the announcement is still too new.
“This increases the affordability and accessibility to all British Columbian residents, “ said Shadfar. “It will also help (people) to decrease costs and not to be worried about their contraceptives.”
According to the province, later this spring, pharmacists like Shadfar will have more responsibility.
“The great news is that in the summer pharmacists will have the ability to prescribe contraceptives without going to your doctor,” she said.
As the province struggles with a dire doctor shortage, the additional power for pharmacists comes as welcome news.
“Pharmacy students nowadays are graduating with doctor of pharmacy degrees, so it does increase the scope of practice for pharmacists and does decrease the burden on primary care physians because they’re already so overworked,” said Alixandra Logan, a PharmD candidate student.
Before Saturday, the cost of hormonal birth control varied from around $25 for a box of pills to a one-time cost of more than $400 for IUDs.
Nurse practitioner Sara Eftekhar points out that vasectomies have been free in B.C. for years.
“It’s a huge, historic day and a huge, historic win for reproductive rights,” Eftakhar said.
Contraceptives can be prescribed for reasons other than pregnancy prevention.
“I’ve had patients with (polycystic ovary syndrome), acne, people who have really debilitating periods or I have a lot of patients who have menopausal systems who use the patch, but the patch is not covered so they’re really upset about that,” she said.
Next, she’d like to see fee menstrual products offered throughout the province.
The new savings is part of the NDP government’s platform.
Opposition parties in Alberta, Manitoba and Saskatchewan are also promising free contraceptives if they’re elected.
B.C. will spend $119 million over the next three years for the new program.