Ontario joins Alberta, New Brunswick in making abortion pill available for free

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Ontario is joining Alberta and New Brunswick in making abortion pill Mifegymiso available at no cost to the public.

The abortion pill first became available in Canada in January 2017 at a cost of about $300. This spring, the common drug review recommended public drug coverage for Mifegymiso.

“We continue to make important progress helping women across Ontario gain access to the health care they need,” said Indira Naidoo-Harris, Ontario’s minister for the status of women, in a news release on Thursday. “The commitment to publicly funding Mifegymiso means women across Ontario will have fair and equal access to safe abortion without payment, judgment or exception.”

Women in Ontario will have access to the drug at no cost from Aug. 10. The move follows Alberta’s move to make the drug available for free at the end of July.

“Alberta has shown exemplary leadership in implementing a program that recognizes the incredible potential for Mifegymiso to address ongoing barriers and increase health equality, said Sandeep Prasad, executive director at Action Canada for Sexual Health and Rights, in a news release.

“They have demonstrated that cost coverage is both necessary and possible. That is why we expect all provincial and territorial governments to commit to cost coverage programs of at least the same calibre as Alberta’s before the health ministers’ meeting in the fall of 2017.”

Besides Ontario, Alberta and New Brunswick, plans to cover the drug are also in the works in Manitoba, while Quebec has signalled it’s looking into the issue.

In other drug news, Ontario has proposed a regulation aimed at reducing the amount paid to pharmacies for claims submitted to the Ontario Drug Benefit program. The reduction, calculated at 2.8 per cent of the sum of the pharmacy dispensing fee, compounding fee and pharmacy markup, will last for 18 months or until the government hits $35 million in savings, whichever comes first.

In 2015, the government committed to achieving $200 million in savings through the drug program by implementing a number of pharmacy-related and drug-pricing changes. Following consultations, it carried out a number of changes, including reduced markups for high-cost drugs and the introduction of a maximum quantity policy for chronic-use drugs. The new proposed amendments aim to cover the shortfall accrued in the 2016 and 2017 financial year because the previous changes aren’t currently meeting the savings targets, according to the government.

While Jennifer Schmidt, a senior consultant at Eckler Ltd., says there will be no impact on private drug plans when it comes to active employees, she suggests the changes could affect employers offering retiree benefits. “There is potential — and just potential — that any cost reduction that the government is putting on the pharmacy will somehow make its way back to the private plans,” she says.

Based on the number of pharmacies currently in Ontario, the average pharmacy will take a hit of about $440 a month, according to Mike Cavanagh, chair of the Ontario Pharmacists Association. “Every practice is unique, so that amount will be different for each store, based on where their practice is focused, the volume of the store,” he says.

But Cavanagh doesn’t see any impact on employers or employers with retiree benefits. “All the retirement plans would pay for is the copayment, so if it’s billed to the ODB program first, we would then submit any copayment to the employer or their adjudicator,” he says. “That number doesn’t change.”

Transcontinental Media G.P.