Prescription birth control will soon be free in B.C. Here's what you need to know
British Columbia is soon to become the first jurisdiction in Canada to make prescription birth control free to its residents.
Here's what you need to know — from what's covered to who's covered.
What will be covered?
Starting April 1, the province said it will cover the following prescription contraceptives:
Oral hormone pills, commonly known as the pill.
Subdermal (under-the-skin) injections and implants.
Copper and hormonal intrauterine devices, also known as IUDs.
Plan B, also known as the morning-after pill.
Free prescription contraception will also be made available to men, including trans men.
Vasectomies have already been covered for years by B.C. MSP, or the Medical Services Plan.
What is not covered?
Condoms are available over the counter and were not included in the list of covered products.
Birth control will still not be available over the counter.
The Ministry of Health may eventually look at covering other contraceptive products, like vaginal rings and transdermal patches in the future, but as of now, they are not covered.
WATCH | Period Poverty Task Force's Nikki Hill discusses the impact of free contraceptives:
How do I access free contraception?
The province said residents covered by MSP will initially need to take a prescription from a family doctor to a pharmacist to have the prescription filled starting in April.
As early as May, residents will be able to skip the family doctor step: they should be able to get a prescription straight from a pharmacist once their scope of practice expands.
Can I get reimbursed for birth control I've already paid for?
No. According to the Ministry of Finance, this new policy is not retroactive and will only apply to prescriptions filled after April 1, 2023.
Is it restricted by age?
No, but you must be a resident covered by MSP — meaning Canadians from other provinces or territories cannot travel to B.C. to access free contraception.
Why is the province doing this?
The province said it's offering free contraception to make sure that money isn't a barrier for women, transgender and non-binary people to make choices about their own sexual and reproductive health.
The budget said the move will not only help prevent unplanned pregnancies and improve health outcomes for parents and babies but could also help patients manage chronic conditions like endometriosis or polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS).
How much money will this cost the government?
The province is spending $119 million over three years for the new program.
It said the initiative could save someone who spends $25 on the pill every month up to $10,000 over their lifetime.
In British Columbia, the pill can cost at least $240 a year, hormone injections can cost as much as $180 per year and longer-lasting IUDs anywhere from $75 and $500.
The pill continues to be one of the most common methods of birth control.
More than 48 per cent of sexually active 15- to 24-year-olds reported that they or their partner were using the pill the last time they had sex, according to a Statistics Canada study published in 2020.
Long-acting methods like IUDs or hormonal implants became more popular as respondents got older.
The agency said one in 10 sexually active females between 15 and 24 reported having used emergency contraception, like the morning-after pill, in the previous year.
How will B.C. measure up against other places in terms of access?
Access to birth control varies widely around the world.
British Columbia's decision comes in stark contrast to the ongoing debate around reproductive rights in the United States since the overturning of Roe v. Wade paved the way for states to tighten their regulation of contraceptives and access to abortion.
Abroad, birth control options should be available over-the-counter at local pharmacies and in grocery stores in countries including China, Greece, India, Turkey, Mexico, South Africa, Russia and Korea.
Australia, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and the Scandinavian countries provide free contraception. In France, residents aged 25 and over can get reimbursed.
The Access B.C. campaign, which pushed for free contraception in the province for six years, sees B.C.'s decision as a potential spark for change elsewhere in Canada.
"This is a big policy," said chair Dr. Teale Phelps Bondaroff, whose leading similar campaigns in Ontario, Manitoba, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. "It's going to transform reproductive health in the province, and my hope is that this makes British Columbia a beacon of hope for reproductive justice across Canada and further afield."
He noted cost is only one barrier to contraceptive access, and other factors like geography, education and physician bias still need to be addressed.
"There's lots of more work to be done," Phelps Bondaroff said.