Saskatchewan

Sask. government decision on covering abortion pill could come this week

The Saskatchewan government's decision on whether to fully cover the cost of the abortion pill Mifegymiso could be imminent.

Sask. only province without universal coverage for Mifegymiso

Mifegymiso terminates a pregnancy up to nine weeks in. (Linepharma International)

The Saskatchewan government's decision on whether to fully cover the cost of the abortion pill Mifegymiso could be imminent.

A spokesperson for the government said on Monday that Minister of Health Jim Reiter could make his decision public, "as early as the end of this week".

Reiter requested that the Drug Plan and Extended Benefits Branch in the Ministry of Health conduct a review of the universal coverage of Mifegymiso. The drug terminates a pregnancy up to nine weeks in. The government indicated Monday that the results of the review would be a part of an announcement on universal coverage.

In the past few days, The Canadian Press reported the Manitoba government's decision to fully fund Mifegymiso, leaving Saskatchewan as the lone province where the cost of the drug is not covered by taxpayers.

Universal coverage lobbied for by medical students, opposition

After some review, the provincial government added Mifegymiso to its formulary in 2017.

The ministry estimates the drug costs around $360 on its own.

Coverage of a prescription differs from patient to patient depending on income, with registered low-income earners being eligible for a $2 prescription.

The Ministry of Health said that from September 2017 to December 2018, 482 prescriptions for Mifegymiso were dispensed in Saskatchewan and 138 of those were covered by the province's drug plan, either fully or partially.

In March, University of Saskatchewan medical students met with Reiter to ask for universal access.

The student group said that by not providing access to medical abortion, but providing access to surgical abortion, the province is violating the tenet of universality in the Canada Health Act.

Alan Chan with the University of Saskatchewan's medical student group said Monday that providing universal access is a "women's right."

"It's something that should be accessible and free to all women for the purpose of safety and efficiency, as well as for the purpose of cost savings from a national perspective."

Chan said Saskatchewan no longer has a "shield" as it now stands alone after Manitoba's announcement.

The Saskatchewan NDP has also been lobbying the government for universal coverage. It criticized comments by Rural and Remote Health Minister Greg Ottenbreit at an anti-abortion event in April.

NDP MLA Vicki Mowat said she wanted to know if Ottenbreit's personal beliefs may be the reason the government has been "slow" to add Mifegymiso to the provincial drug plan.

Premier Scott Moe said the comments crossed a "small line." Reiter said Ottenbreit's views had nothing to do with the province's review of the abortion pill or the decision on whether to make it covered by taxpayers.

On Monday, Mowat said she "can't understand why limiting access would be something ministers of health would be interested in doing".

On the point of studying the cost, Mowat said the drug is less invasive and cheaper than a surgical abortion, saving taxpayers $450. She said the drug makes it easier for women in rural and remote areas of the province to access.

"The minister has no choice at this point. There's no argument that Saskatchewan should be the lone holdout."

About the Author

Adam Hunter

Journalist

Adam Hunter is the provincial affairs reporter at CBC Saskatchewan, based in Regina. He has been with CBC for 12 years. He hosts the CBC podcast On the Ledge. Follow him on Twitter @AHiddyCBC. Contact him: adam.hunter@cbc.ca

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