It’s 2021, and thousands of staff working for the City of Vancouver still don’t have birth control covered under their extended benefits plan.
But that should change soon with contraceptive coverage added as a key item in the new collective agreement between the City of Vancouver and a union representing more than 4,000 employees, more than 2,200 of which are enrolled in the benefits plan.
Warren Williams, president of CUPE Local 15, confirmed to Daily Hive that this is the first time reimbursement for birth control and other contraceptives will be available to members.
“It’s shocking in itself,” Williams said in a phone interview. “It’s time, you know. It’s starting to be more and more difficult for employers to argue against.”
With 65% and 70% of CUPE Local 15’s membership identified as women, it made sense to ask for birth control coverage when bargaining for the new agreement, Williams said.
The high cost of adding birth control coverage to benefits plans is sometimes viewed as a barrier by employers, and Williams added the issue is generally not something members would go on strike over.
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“It’s a systemic issue. It’s a national issue,” Williams said of a lack of birth control coverage. “It’s not just the City of Vancouver.”
The new collective agreement will be ratified between June 3 and June 10, and employees should have access to birth control coverage shortly after. Contraceptive devices such as IUDs will be included, according to a letter sent to union members in May:
The City of Vancouver makes a point of signalling that it supports women, and created a 10-year revamped Women’s Equity Strategy in 2018.
But the City declined to answer Daily Hive’s questions about why it waited this long to provide contraceptive coverage to CUPE Local 15 employees, and only confirmed that an agreement was reached following bargaining.
Nearly 8,500 employees work for the City, and some of them already have access to birth control and contraceptive device coverage. Eligible staff with the Vancouver Public Library, Vancouver Police Union, Vancouver Police Officers Association, and Teamsters have prescription contraceptives covered.
In September 2020, some other exempt staff also started to receive benefits for birth control, a representative with the City of Vancouver’s communications department told Daily Hive.
Like most drugs, birth control and contraceptive devices are not covered by BC’s Medical Services Plan and individuals seeking them must usually pay out of pocket unless they have private insurance. Employer and school-based extended health benefits programs often cover part of the cost of birth control and other drugs, but they don’t have to. Some plans, like the City’s current one with CUPE Local 15, exclude birth control from drug coverage.
Being able to control when pregnancy occurs and how many children one has leads to better mental health and higher earnings over one’s lifetime, Dr. Sarah Munro, assistant professor in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology at UBC Medicine, told Daily Hive.
Certain types of contraceptives are also used to treat medical conditions such as painful menstruation, endometriosis, polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) and can delay or eliminate menstruation.
“We need a national Pharmacare plan,” Munro said in a phone interview. “No person should be prevented from choosing [an] effective method of contraception for cost barriers.”
Universal contraceptive coverage is something the UBC Medicine Political Advocacy Committee is calling on the province to implement, citing research that suggests up to 40% of pregnancies in BC are unintended.
Munro hopes the current patchwork coverage for contraceptives will get better if the BC NDP follows through on its election promise to provide universal coverage for prescription contraceptives.
She recalled her university days when she was on the birth control pill and spent months saving up for an IUD because her school’s plan didn’t cover it.
“That was 20 years ago, and we hear [the] same stories,” she said. “It’s shocking how little we’ve progressed.”