Manitoba to cover cost of abortion pill Mifegymiso at approved centres
Drug will be free of charge at specific health centres that already provide surgical abortions
The Province of Manitoba will provide Mifegymiso, commonly known as the abortion pill, to patients free of charge, as long as they go to approved sites in the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority or the Prairie Mountain Health region.
The drug, which sells for roughly $300, recently became available in Canada after it was approved by Health Canada.
Shortly after, an expert panel working for the Canadian Agency for Drugs and Technologies in Health recommended the cost of the drug be reimbursed by government health plans.
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Provincial officials made the decision to cover it — following several provinces including Ontario, Alberta, New Brunswick and Quebec — on Friday. No public announcement was made.
The drug is approved to be provided free of charge at sites that already provide surgical abortion services in the Winnipeg and the Prairie Mountain health regions. Those include the Brandon Regional Health Centre, the Health Sciences Centre in Winnipeg and the Women's Health Clinic in Winnipeg.
Provincial officials said the regions will determine which of those locations will offer medical abortions (which is the term used for abortions conducted using the abortion pill rather than a surgical intervention), and until that work is done, they will not be provided free of charge.
On Thursday, representatives for the Prairie Mountain Regional Health said the details have not been finalized.
"We certainly are trusting the judgment of the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority and the Prairie Mountain Regional Health Authority to look at how they're going to offer this service to their patients in the best format and at the best place possible," said Rochelle Squires, the minister responsible for the status of women.
"There's been a lot of preliminary work that's gone into this already. This has been part of an ongoing dialogue since July of 2015 when Health Canada approved this drug for use in Canada. This isn't a new surprise for anyone."
Two-tiered system for women in rural areas, critic says
She said if women want to access the abortion pill outside of approved clinics in Winnipeg or Brandon, the drug will not be provided free of charge.
Instead, the drug has become an eligible benefit under Pharmacare, so women can access it through a doctor or specialist. That doctor will have had to go through a six-hour online training course to be able to prescribe the drug.
Once prescribed, those patients will have to pay out of pocket unless they've met their Pharmacare deductible for the year or are on Employment and Income Assistance.
NDP MLA Nahanni Fontaine says that amounts to two-tiered care for women living in northern or rural areas versus those who live close to Winnipeg or Brandon.
"It's rather curious and a little baffling in respect to why only some Manitoba women will be able to access the abortion pill," Fontaine said. "It's not being fully supported or paid for so those are red flags and that's problematic for some of the most marginalized, isolated women here in Manitoba."
'Minister of health has not even uttered the word abortion'
Squires said the province is doing a six-month analysis to determine whether the drug will be offered free of charge in other health regions.
"There shouldn't be a difference in respect of something that is far more safe, far more accessible. It should be fully paid for now, not in six months," Fontaine said. "Something six months down the line? I have no faith in this government that they're going to say, 'We're going to fully support the abortion pill for Manitoba women.'"
Fontaine said she asked about abortion pill availability several times in the legislature.
"He [Minister of Health Kelvin Goertzen] only got up once. The minister of health has not even uttered the word abortion. It's not even come out of his mouth. To defer it to the status of women? He's the minister of health. I would ask Manitobans to think about why he's deferring that – deferring his responsibility," said Fontaine.
Squires said she has worked closely with Goertzen, but that "abortion services primarily are a women's issue."