N.S. NDP proposes new bill that would see birth control products covered under MSI

A new bill presented by the Nova Scotia NDP proposes prescription contraceptives, like birth control and intrauterine devices (IUDs), be covered under the provincial health care.

Legislation tabled by the NDP Caucus would ensure anyone without coverage would be able to get birth control under the provincial MSI plan.

"Reproductive health care is health care. Cost shouldn't be a barrier to accessing contraceptives," said Susan Leblanc, a NDP Health and Wellness spokesperson in a news release on Tuesday. "The cost of prescription contraceptives is a serious barrier for many people. Women, trans and non-binary people, people with lower incomes and young people deserve to be able to access contraceptives easily and without delay."

Over the past few years, groups in Nova Scotia have advocated to make menstrual products free and available in public washrooms in places like libraries and municipal buildings to address issues around affordability, access, and health.  Some advocates say making prescription birth control free would address similar issues.

"It's important because there are plenty of people in this province who don't have access to private health coverage," said Leblanc. "Oral contraceptives are often covered by private health plans but they are not covered by MSI, so that's a big one."

According to the NDP Caucus, Atlantic Canada has some of the lowest levels of access to prescription medications in Canada - an estimated one-in-three workers in Nova Scotia do not have health benefits.

Dr. Melissa Brooks is an obstetrician gynecologist and abortion provider in Halifax. She says, not only is the change necessary for optimal sexual and reproductive health, it will be cost-productive as well.

"Unplanned pregnancy is not only a burden to the person, but poses a significant cost to the healthcare system," said Brooks. "Ensuring access to effective contraception will improve the health of people in our province and lead to cost savings." 

Brooks also says some methods of birth control, like IUDs, can be costly.

"So, those are contraceptives that provide three to five years of effective contraception," said Brooks. "It's a device that's often just a one-time, up-front cost of three to four hundred dollars."

British Columbia is exploring the same concept for free contraceptives. Advocates there say the change could save the province approximately $95-million a year in medical costs.

In 2019, the Canadian Pediatrics Society recommended Canadians under the age of 25 be given universal access to free contraceptives, adding more than a quarter of youth do not use contraceptives consistently.

In March 2020, Nova Scotia’s Liberal government said it would review MSI regulations to potentially cover the cost of IUDs. No further action has been taken so far.

Rachel Ettinger is the founder of 'Here for Her' – a social enterprise that focuses on female health equality.

She says the change to free contraceptives would be a natural extension of health care, offering more options for reproductive health.

"When people want the birth control pill for example, they should be able to access it and it shouldn't matter their income, their situation, etcetera. It’s part of their health care" said Ettinger.

Martha Paynter, a registered nurse, says providing cost-free contraceptives could see a change for taxpayers as well.

"An abortion costs $1,917 and a pack of birth control pills costs $30," said Paynter.

The bill introduced by the NDP Caucus will need support from Nova Scotia’s Liberal government in order to move ahead.