Opinion: Cutting insurance for endometriosis treatment is callous and sexist

Women are in unbearable pain and the government of Saskatchewan has chosen to ignore it, Brendan Thompson writes.

The Star Phoenix 4 minute read November 22, 2021

Women are in unbearable pain and the government of Saskatchewan has chosen to ignore it.

Saskatchewan medicare must insure treatment for endometriosis or many women will continue to be unable to work and unable to lead their lives in any sort of fulfilling way.

About one in 10 women suffer from endometriosis, which occurs when tissue that normally lines the inside of the uterus grows elsewhere in the body. This causes varying degrees of discomfort, the most severe being debilitating pain that requires significant treatment for the person to be able to function normally. There is no cure.

In 2019, the Saskatchewan Medical Association cancelled insurance for Botox injections that treat endometriosis. This was devastating for many women in the province. For those whose pain is the most severe, Botox injections were the only treatment that eased their pain for long enough to get back to everyday life instead of constantly medicating.

Cancellation of insurance has left women to either foot the enormous medical bills or find other, sub-optimal treatments. Pay for it yourself or suffer.

The reason for the change was that the Botox treatment wasn’t backed by enough scientific research. That said, it was working. What little research exists on Botox injections for endometriosis suggests that it relieves pain for longer and more reliably than anything else.

I don’t want to suggest this is the Saskatchewan Medical Association’s fault, because the organization can only do what it’s set up to do.

In this case, it went through its process, found a treatment that was not backed by enough scientific research to continue, and cancelled it. This is reasonable and it’s what we’d want and expect from an organization that we trust with our health. However, once the insurance was cancelled, why wasn’t anything else done?

The Government of Saskatchewan simply sat on its hands instead of solving the problem. It’s not as if it was a secret that the insurance had been cancelled. News outlets ran stories on it. The government is well aware of how the system works because the SMA comes under its purview.

Perhaps there wasn’t enough public outcry; perhaps the government thought someone else would solve the problem, or perhaps it just didn’t care. Any way you look at it, an opportunity was squandered. However, something can still be done.

If it’s simply a question of research, the answer seems obvious: fund it. Do it yourself.

The Saskatchewan government is more than capable of funding the research necessary to demonstrate that this procedure works. After all, it was already doing it, more or less. The treatments were working, as attested to by the patients. When it came to light that the science on Botox injections for endometriosis hadn’t reached a consensus, had someone in the Ministry of Health decided to hand the doctors some clipboards and publish their findings, a lot more women would be significantly more comfortable right now.

Research on this subject is an opportunity to make a contribution to a global problem. Endometriosis happens everywhere and is not going away.

Based on recent reporting, women continue to receive a low standard of care when it comes to endometriosis. The world desperately needs an effective, long-lasting treatment. Why shouldn’t Saskatchewan lead the way against a disease that causes pain to millions?

I’m aware it’s not that simple. There are procedures to follow and standards to uphold, but that doesn’t let the government off the hook. When a gap in the treatment opens up as it did in this case, there must be a strategy to address it.

Cutting insurance for a procedure that allows women to function and work in everyday society and then not taking any steps to replace that procedure is inhumane, callous, and sexist.

 

Brendan Thompson is a University of Saskatchewan law student studying feminist law reform, currently on exchange at the University of Ottawa.

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