How young women's access to birth control in Ontario will change April 1

Changes coming to OHIP+ on April 1 mean young women in Ontario may have to rely on their private health insurance, or their parents' insurance, to access free birth control.
After April 1, OHIP+ will no longer cover prescriptions, like birth control, for people under the age of 25 if they have access to private insurance. (iStock)

Changes coming to Ontario's prescription drug coverage on April 1 could force young people to go through their parents if they need birth control and that's raising concern among sexual health workers.

Young women who have private health insurance, either their own or under their parents, will no longer have access to free birth control under changes coming to OHIP+.

That's a problem, says Lyndsey Butcher.

Butcher is the executive director of the Shore Centre in Kitchener, which provides sexual health education and support for unplanned pregnancies.

"For many young people, there's lots of reasons why they wouldn't want their parents to know that they're on birth control. And now, because they'll have to go through their parents' plan, their parents could become aware that they are accessing birth control and that can cause difficulties in the family," Butcher said.

She said that could lead to some teens deciding not to fill their birth control prescriptions, and not taking their birth control can lead to unplanned pregnancies.

She said that's a very difficult situation for a teen or young woman to find themselves in.

Lyndsey Butcher is executive director of the Shore Centre in Kitchener, which provides sexual health education to people in Waterloo region. She says changes to OHIP+ could impact how young women in the region access their birth control. (Jackie Sharkey/CBC)

Changes to hormonal IUD coverage

The previous Liberal government launched OHIP+ in January 2018, and it covered the cost of all prescriptions for anyone aged 24 or younger.

In June after the provincial election, the Progressive Conservatives repealed part of the plan. Health Minister Christine Elliott announced children, teens and young adults with private health benefits will no longer be eligible to receive free prescriptions through OHIP+.

In an emailed statement to CBC Kitchener-Waterloo, a spokesperson for Elliott noted children and youth 24 years of age and under who are OHIP-insured, but who do not have a private plan, will continue to receive coverage for eligible prescription medications through OHIP+ at no cost.

"This includes coverage for over 4,400 drug products listed on the Ontario Drug Benefit Formulary, including a number of oral contraceptives and IUDs," the spokesperson said.

People can search the medications online on the government's website.

After April 1, if someone comes to the Shore Centre for help, Butcher says they'll be able to use an access fund, which was created by donations from the public to help women who couldn't afford birth control. It's currently used mostly by newcomers who have no health coverage.

Butcher noted access to hormonal IUDs (intrauterine devices) for pregnancy prevention could also be impacted as many private health plans don't cover them, or if they do, they only cover a portion of the cost.

A hormonal IUD, which lasts for five years, can cost $415.

The cost is "a significant barrier for teenagers or students in university who just don't have that cash up front to purchase that IUD even if, for them, that's the most effective method of birth control," Butcher says.

'Reduce some of the fear'

"I know it can be really difficult for parents to understand why their teenager might go on birth control without telling them, but for parents who do find out, know that your young person has made a responsible decision that they're taking care of themselves and try not to overreact," she said.

She suggests parents talk to their children about sex, healthy relationships, consent and peer pressure before they might become sexually active. In today's society, those talks should be taking place between Grade 6 and 8, she said.

"We know that teenagers are so afraid of their parents finding out and if parents could be a partner in this by talking to their kids about sexual health, about healthy relationships, maybe that would reduce some of the fear teenagers have when accessing birth control," she said.


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