Young Canadians deserve better access to birth control

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 In a recent position statement, the Canadian Paediatric Society called for all forms of contraceptives to be made available to Canadians under 25 confidentially and at no cost.
 
Maintaining your own reproductive and sexual health is a significant responsibility, impacting your life every single day. However, for some young Canadians, upholding that responsibility simply isn’t financially feasible. 
 
Currently, youth who have limited or no insurance must pay out-of-pocket for prescribed birth control methods. Those covered by a guardian’s insurance are forced to choose between sacrificing their confidentiality from the policy-holder and paying for the contraceptives themselves. Without the necessary funds, young people can remain stalled between receiving a prescription and filling it, leaving them at risk for pregnancy, STIs, and other 
health concerns.
 
The current universal healthcare system doesn’t guarantee Canadians equal access to “supplementary” health benefits—like drug coverage. The national health insurance program is made up of 13 separate provincial and territorial health insurance plans. It’s at the discretion of each province and territory to determine what services are covered beyond those insured under the Canada Health Act. 
 
Canadians should be choosing their contraceptives based on what works best for their bodies, not what they can afford. Long-acting and highly effective methods of birth control, such as intrauterine devices (IUDs), are among the most expensive. This puts young Canadians with limited finances at a distinct disadvantage. Even non-prescription contraceptives like condoms—which protect against STIs—don’t come without a cost.
 
But the price tag isn’t the only factor impacting young people’s access to contraceptives: timely access to prescriptions is just as vital.
 
Our nation continues to fail to reduce long wait times for healthcare services. Canadians can be forced to wait days or weeks to see a physician and acquire a prescription for contraceptives. To mitigate this problem, the federal government should consider granting pharmacists across Canada the ability to issue birth control prescriptions—a practice which has already been implemented successfully in Saskatchewan. 
 
When it comes to fulfilling the fundamental human right of bodily autonomy, putting out the occasional bowl of free condoms isn’t enough. 
 
Our national healthcare program needs change by the federal government to achieve equitable access to contraceptives—which are essential to unplanned pregnancy prevention and to overall health.
 
Heeding the Canadian Paediatric Society’s recommendation to give Canadians under 25 free and confidential access to all contraceptives would be a step in the right direction.
 
—Journal Editorial Board
 

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