Maternity doctors urge Yukon Government to cover diagnostic test for women over 35

Maternity doctors urge Yukon Government to cover diagnostic test for women over 35

Doctors at a Whitehorse maternity clinic are calling on the Yukon government to cover the cost of a diagnostic test for pregnant women who are over the age of 35.

The Harmony test is a non invasive prenatal test that  determines whether a woman is carrying a baby with trisomy 21 or Down's Syndrome. It also tests for trisomy 18 and trisomy 13, both of which cause severe birth defects and are most often fatal.

The blood test can be conducted at Whitehorse General hospital. It costs about $500, but for now, the cost is out of pocket for most pregnant women wanting the test.

The Yukon government does cover the cost of another screening test, called a nuchal translucency ultrasound, but it's done out of territory. Women taking the test must fly to Vancouver, and with the flight and cost of the procedure, the territory ends up paying more than $1,000 per case.

"I understand the delay but doing the math it makes more sense to just do the Harmony test for women over 35," says Stephanie Buchanan, a doctor at the Sage Maternity Clinic in Whitehorse.

Buchanan says the doctors at Sage Maternity have written a letter urging the Yukon government to cover the cost the Harmony test for women over 35, but government officials have hesitated.

Buchanan argues it's not only cheaper, but also more accurate. She says the Harmony test has a failure rate of 2 percent, while nuchal translucency scan has a failure rate of between 10 and 20 percent. According to Buchanan, the Harmony test can also be conducted two to three weeks earlier in the pregnancy, at around 10 weeks.

Acting Assistant Deputy Minister of Health Shauna Demers says the government does pay for some women to have the Harmony test, but only those who test positive on the nuchal scan or other tests conducted later in the pregnancy.

Demers says the government is now looking at covering the cost for all women considered "high risk." Exactly who that will include, though, is still unclear.

"Who is in the high risk group for us? Is it age? Is it age plus having a positive on the other blood tests? We're formulating what that is going to look like for us," said Demers.

She says the government will decide who is eligible for coverage by late spring.