Group renews call for free birth control in Nova Scotia
'It's really sad that we have such financial barriers to contraception for Nova Scotians,' pharmacist says
A new group is renewing calls to make birth control free to all Nova Scotians who want it.
"I've seen many, many girls or transgender men come into the pharmacy looking for the morning-after pill, looking for abortion pills or asking about abortions or asking about the cost of birth control. And it's really sad that we have such financial barriers to contraception for Nova Scotians," said Kari Ellen Graham, a clinical pharmacist who formed the coalition.
Without private health insurance, Graham said the cost for birth control could run from $300 to $500 annually, depending which method is chosen. She said the prices are "simply unattainable" to many Nova Scotians.
Nova Scotia NDP Leader Claudia Chender introduced the birth control bill in 2022. Chender, who is also part of the coalition, cited the British Columbia government's success when it made birth control free for all of its residents.
The British Columbia government pledged $119 million over three years to implement their free contraception program, starting April 1. Their program aims to provide full coverage of oral birth control pills, contraceptive injections, hormonal and copper intrauterine devices and subdermal implants. It will also cover Plan B, known as the morning-after pill.
'Patients are loving it' in B.C., coalition says
Graham said pharmacists she's spoken to in B.C. have given the program glowing reviews.
"I hear from local pharmacists there that it's going excellent, patients are loving it, super happy with it and it's going really well. I want the same thing for our patients in Nova Scotia," she said.
Graham said part of the pushback against making birth control free in Nova Scotia came down to costs, but she argues making it free would actually be financially beneficial.
"For every dollar we put up front, we're hoping to save $11 in total health-care money. So it's an actual economic boon to cover birth control because it prevents so much aftercare for unwanted pregnancies and abortions and economic impact on people's mental health and communities and you know, I could go on and on and on," Graham said.
"And we have tons of data available to say that this is an actual economic smart thing to do."
Graham said she encourages anyone who would like to see birth control made free for Nova Scotians to write to their local MLA. She said her group is planning to hold events in the near future to get the health minister's attention to the issue.
Barriers to accessing birth control
In March, Nova Scotia Health Minister Michelle Thompson said in an email that the Department of Health and Wellness "continually reviews how we provide prescription benefits to Nova Scotians." She said at the time if the government makes any changes, "we will be sure to communicate this with the public."
On Friday, the Nova Scotia Department of Health and Wellness said in an email it appreciated "that there is some public interest in full coverage of prescription contraception in Nova Scotia."
"Nova Scotia's Pharmacare Program currently covers contraception prescriptions. There are deductibles and co-payments required depending on the program and insurance coverage," the email stated, adding again it would let the public know if it makes any changes.
But Graham said things like deductibles and online forms to fill out can be barriers to getting birth control.
"It's really just a patchwork system meant for people, you know, who have an address and a phone and access to internet," she said.
With files from Paul Palmeter