A couple of weeks after B.C. became the first province to make prescription birth control free, some people are surprised to find they still have to pay for their prescriptions or need to switch to an equivalent medication.
The province’s free contraceptive program, which began April 1, covers the pill, copper and hormonal intrauterine devices, an injection, an implant and the morning-after pill.
But birth control pills covered in the program are generally generic versions, with either partial or no coverage for more expensive brand names.
Ashley Jensen ran into the issue when she went to refill her prescription for birth control pills, discovering the brand that she’s on is not covered under the new PharmaCare plan. Instead, she had to pay the roughly $80 it costs to fill a three-month prescription.
She wasn’t sure if she could switch to another version without adverse side effects. Many women are sensitive to hormonal birth control and have trouble finding something that works for them, which can make switching feel daunting.
Oral birth control generally contains two components — estrogen and progesterone — and there are many different formulations and dosing of the two, said Dr. Joshua Greggain, president of Doctors of B.C. While a particular brand may not be covered, people who take oral birth control will be able to find the same formulation of active ingredients in a generic version that is covered on the province’s list, he said.
Switching to a pill that has the same formulation shouldn’t cause side effects, Greggain said, but people should speak to a health care provider to assess their personal history.
“I think there is an ample number of options for contraceptive that are being covered by this new program,” he said.
There are over 60 commonly used contraceptives that are fully covered, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Health said in a statement.
The list does not include vaginal rings and the dermal patch, but B.C. PharmaCare will consider the safety, efficacy, value for money and economic impact to the province in revisiting its decision on these options, the ministry said.
Vaginal rings and the dermal patch were previously reviewed and determined to be considerably more expensive than alternatives with no additional efficacy or safety benefits, the ministry said.
“However, we know some people may prefer these delivery mechanisms and PharmaCare will review this.”
A full list of contraceptives covered under the new program is available on the province’s website at gov.bc.ca/contraceptives.
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