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21st - Mar

Medical student group lobbies health minister for universal coverage of Mifegymiso

A group of medical students met with Health Minister Jim Reiter at the Legislative Building in Regina on March 21, urging his government to provide universal access to the so-called abortion pill.

Members of the Student Medical Society of Saskatchewan’s government affairs and advocacy committee held their annual Day of Action. This year they are calling on the government to fully fund the pill Mifegymiso.

Lara Witt, a second-year medical student, said the students will continue to press the minister on the issue until they see results. She added Reiter was open and receptive to their arguments.

“It wasn’t an easy meeting by any means,” she told the SMA. “He was definitely fact-checking us and checking all of our statistics and writing them down to make sure we could be checked later. But when we put forward our whole spiel and allowed time to ask questions, he said that it was definitely something he would be open to considering.”

She said the students “jumped on that opportunity.”

“We said, ‘OK, so let’s set up a meeting in a month’s time with the deputy minister of health and your office and we’re going to talk about this and we’re going to be involved in the process,’ ” Witt said, recalling the meeting. “He kind of went, ‘You guys don’t know how slow politics can be.’ And we said, ‘OK, we’ll be hearing from you in a month, correct?’ And then we told him if we don’t hear from him in a month he can expect another open letter, and he’s going to see how annoying we can be, and he accepted that. So it was a very productive meeting.”

Students hope to continue dialogue

Witt said the initial meeting on March 21 opens the door for further dialogue down the road, with other stakeholders possibly getting involved.

Mifegymiso induces a medical termination of a pregnancy. It is taken in the first trimester and costs between $350 and $400.

The provincial government added the drug to its formulary effective September 2017. The cost charged to a patient varies depending on their individual drug coverage and their eligibility through benefit programs.

Universal coverage 'actionable and impactful'

Witt said the students decided to lobby for universal coverage because it is “actionable and impactful,” added most provinces provide it.

She noted women have to travel to Saskatoon or Regina for surgical abortions – which are fully covered by the government. Providing full coverage to Mifegymiso enables people who live in rural and remote communities to save on the costs, and take the treatments in their own homes, she said.

“It would actually save costs for the provincial government,” said Witt. “It’s not a substantial amount when you look at government spending in context. A surgical abortion is about 40 per cent more expensive than Mifegymiso, so there are some costs savings, but I think the most important point is the access because that’s what’s most important for us as patient advocates.”

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