Changes to insulin pump therapy program has some Albertans with diabetes worried
Roughly 4,000 Albertans rely on government program to afford insulin pump and supplies
Some people with Type 1 diabetes are worried that a new health benefits plan won't provide sufficient medical coverage.
Proposed changes to Alberta's insulin pump benefits program has left some patients with Type 1 diabetes wondering if they will still be able to afford the therapy under a new replacement plan.
An insulin pump is a small programmable machine that delivers needed insulin injections to patients throughout the day.
The cost of insulin pumps and a portion of insulin pump therapy supplies were covered under Alberta's Insulin Pump Therapy Program, which began in 2013 and serves about 4,000 Albertans.
But on Tuesday, the province announced the program would be discontinued on Aug. 1 and replaced with a government-sponsored health benefit plans instead.
Calgarian Brooklyn Rhead has Type 1 diabetes and has been using an insulin pump for nearly two years.
She said the device gives patients more freedom in managing their disease by taking away the need for multiple daily injections.
"An insulin pump is life changing. It just makes everything so much simpler. You just have an easier day-to-day life," said Rhead.
Under the province's proposed changes, Rhead said she isn't sure she'll be able to afford the device and all the necessary equipment that comes with it.
"With the change of the plan, many Type 1 diabetics, including myself, are searching [for] where we're going to get our coverage from," said Rhead.
"I don't get coverage through employment or private insurance, so we have to figure out how to get the coverage so I can continue on my pump. It's kind of scary to think that I might have to go back to multiple daily injections."
According to the province's release, patients who do not have employer-sponsored or private insurance coverage will be required to enroll in a government-sponsored health benefit plan, which may require monthly premiums or co-payments.
Rhead is concerned that none of the proposed plans will cover the full costs of insulin pump therapy — the Omnipod insulin pump that she uses alone costs over $3,000 per year.
Health Minister Jason Copping said the new plan will allow people to access better pumps.
"We want to make sure that we can cover the cost for the greatest number of people. So we're looking at changing our programs to be able to do that," he said.
Copping said the changes will allow the government to save around $9 million per year.
Opposition NDP health critic David Shepherd said he has heard concerns from his constituents regarding potential co-payments under a government-sponsored health benefit plan.
"I would like to see some further details on how this process was going to work," he said.
"It is concerning that this is a government that continually turns towards private profit instead of enhancing and supporting the public health-care system."
Rhead said the news may come as a shock to some people with the disease. She didn't hear about the change from the Alberta government directly, but through a friend who also has Type 1 diabetes.
"[This is] an autoimmune disease, so it's not caused by lifestyle or diet or anything and you can't prevent it, which means that you need insulin to survive," she added.
"If an insulin pump is the best way to do that, why [is the government] restricting it?"
With files from Dan McGarvey