Manitoba to offer free, no-deductible coverage for drugs that help prevent, treat HIV

Some Manitobans will save upwards of a few hundred dollars a month after the province announced it would fully cover the cost of a drug that significantly reduces the risk of contracting HIV.

The province will offer pre-exposure prophylaxis, commonly known as PrEP, at no cost to any individuals who don’t already have full coverage through their insurance, Health Minister Uzoma Asagwara announced at the legislature Thursday as part of a ministerial statement on Pride Month.

Taking PrEP medication reduces the risk of getting HIV through sexual contact by 99 per cent, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the U.S.

The health minister also indicated Manitoba will provide full coverage for PEP, or post-exposure prophylaxis, which is a drug for individuals who have possibly been exposed to HIV, and ART, a treatment for HIV-positive people that reduces the level of virus in a person’s body, Asagwara said.

Full coverage of the drugs will start on Monday, the minister said.

In 2021, the former Progressive Conservative government added PrEP to the provincial drug formulary, but it wasn’t fully covered as individuals still needed to pay their deductible, an amount based upon an individual’s income level.

Thursday’s announcement will remove the requirement for a Pharmacare deductible.

Costs upwards of $300 a month

Without coverage, PrEP can run between $200 and $300 a month. Some anti-retroviral drugs used to treat HIV are covered and cost over $1,000 a month.

Asagwara said Manitoba would also remove the requirement for health-care providers to register in order to prescribe PrEP.

“Folks who want to access PrEP can get it from the care provider they feel most comfortable and safe with, exactly when they need it,” Asagwara said.

Manitoba is removing barriers to access HIV preventive medicine after the province reported its highest-ever number of HIV diagnoses in 2022.

The rate of new diagnoses “has been dramatically increasingly” and more than doubled over five years, according to the latest data from Manitoba Health for 2022.

A non-binary person in a burgundy suit and black shirt stands in the hallway, outside the front door of an office.
Uzoma Asagwara, Manitoba’s health minister, announced the provincial government would cover the cost of three different HIV and AIDS medications. (Randall McKenzie/CBC)

There were 196 newly diagnosed cases that year — a 36 per cent increase from the 144 new cases in 2021. There were also 60 people living with HIV who moved to Manitoba, bringing the total to 256, according to the program.

The demographics in Manitoba’s HIV/AIDS cases differ from other provinces, with higher rates of infection in heterosexual people, women and people who use injection drugs like methamphetamine, Manitoba HIV Program lead Kimberly Templeton told a news conference last year.

Elsewhere in Canada, HIV is more likely to impact gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men, she said.

Alberta, Saskatchewan and B.C. are among the provinces already covering the full price of PrEP. 

Manitoba became the last in the country to cover at least some of the cost of PrEP when it was added to the provincial drug formulary in 2021.

The province didn’t provide a cost estimate Thursday on extending full coverage to the three HIV and AIDS medications.