Manitoba

NDP renews call on Tory government to fully cover abortion pill costs in Manitoba

One day after B.C. became the sixth province to universally cover the cost of abortion pill Mifegymiso, Manitoba New Democrats are again urging the Tory government to do the same for rural communities.

Despite Health Canada easing restrictions to access last fall, pill still not easy to acquire in remote areas

Health Canada eased restrictions on the abortion pill Mifegymiso but the New Democrats in Manitoba say accessibility is still an issue. (CBC)

One day after B.C. became the sixth province to universally cover the cost of abortion pill Mifegymiso, Manitoba New Democrats are again urging the Tory government to do the same for rural communities.

"Women in Manitoba, no matter where they live, deserve access to reproductive health care without having to pay hundreds of dollars out of pocket," Nahanni Fontaine, NDP critic for the status of women, said in a news release Thursday. 

"Women and girls' full control over their futures is a fundamental freedom that we must protect."

Health Canada first approved the sale of Mifegymiso in July 2015, but it only started to become available in select parts of Canada early last year

The medically safe abortion process contains two medications, misoprostol and mifepristone. Together, they are used to terminate a pregnancy.

Available at 3 sites

After passing safety reviews and approvals from Health Canada, the Common Drug Review and pan-Canadian Pharmaceutical Alliance, Mifegymiso was added to the provincial drug list and offered at three sites in Manitoba in July 2017, a provincial spokesperson said.

Manitoba offers the pill for free at the Women's Health Clinic and Health Sciences Centre in Winnipeg and the Brandon Regional Health Centre. The service originally came at a cost ($350 at HSC), though the province has since chalked that up to a mistake.

"At HSC, there was a period where the WRHA incorrectly billed people (but it has since offered refunds for the error)," a provincial spokesperson wrote in an email. "The province's intent/directive has always been for the pill to be available for free at those three sites from the beginning."

Last fall, Health Canada eased restrictions on the pill so pharmacists or health professionals could directly prescribe and dispense the medication, among other changes. 

"Changes to Health Canada regulations have opened up access significantly for provision by rural physicians and nurse practitioners," a spokesperson for Status of Women Minister Rochelle Squires wrote in a statement.

A provincial spokesperson said physicians across Manitoba are able to prescribe Mifegymiso.

Fontaine slammed the Brian Pallister government at the time for not moving faster to make the pill accessible to those living outside of Winnipeg and Brandon.

The abortion pill is still only available for free at those three sites, which continues to be a serious barrier for those in remote communities and northern First Nations, Fontaine said.

Coverage exceptions

Some but not all who live in northern parts of the province still need to pay about $300 or buy a plane ticket into Brandon or Winnipeg to get the treatment.

In that case, the government reimburses travel costs to those who apply through the Northern Patient Transportation Program subsidy, a provincial spokesperson said.

People who qualify for the federal drug plan (such as First Nations women) are exempt from paying, a provincial spokesperson said.

Mifegymiso is now an eligible benefit under Pharmacare, but that only kicks in after annual deductibles are maxed out. The minimum deductible for the pill is $100.

"So a woman with such a deductible would only pay $100 out of pocket towards Mifegymiso and Pharmacare would cover the rest — or if she's already spent $100 in a year on other eligible drug expenses prior to purchasing Mifegymiso, then the Mifegymiso would be fully covered by Pharmacare," a provincial spokesperson said.

People on Employment and Income Assistance are also eligible for coverage.

Provincial review to begin soon

In light of the decision in B.C. to fully cover costs of the abortion pill in that province, Fontaine said the Manitoba government needs to follow suit.

"The Pallister government needs to step up [and] show that they care about women's health," Fontaine said in a statement. 

"The decisions that women have to make about their futures are difficult enough without government seeking to restrict their freedoms," she said. "Manitoba women and girls deserve better than this."

Squires will soon review Mifegymiso availability in Manitoba.

"I will begin that review shortly to look at supply and demand and the uptake of doctors across Manitoba to receive training to prescribe the drug," she said in a statement. "We are looking at all the factors to make decisions going forward."

She added that medical abortion is still free at three sites that offer the surgical procedure: HSC and Women's Health Clinic in Winnipeg, and Brandon Regional Health Centre.

About the Author

Bryce Hoye

Reporter

Bryce Hoye is an award-winning journalist and science writer with a background in wildlife biology and interests in courts, social justice, health and more. He is the Prairie rep for OutCBC. Story idea? Email bryce.hoye@cbc.ca.

With files from Laura Glowacki

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