Edmonton

Glucose monitoring devices now covered for Alberta children with diabetes

Continuous glucose monitors track blood sugar levels in real time, removing the need for people with diabetes to go through the finger-pricking process several times a day.

Continuous monitors track blood sugar levels in real time, sending data to cellphones or insulin pumps

Alberta announced it will cover the Continuous Glucose Monitor System for youth under the ages of 18, starting Feb. 1. (Colin Mehmel)

Continuous glucose monitors for Alberta children under the age of 18 are now covered under government health benefit plans. 

The monitors are wearable devices that track blood sugar levels in real time, removing the need for people with diabetes to go through the finger-pricking process several times a day.

The  expanded coverage, which came into effect Feb. 1, will help more than 1,500 Alberta children with diabetes, the province said in a news release. Parents will save $4,200 annually for the cost of the monitoring system, the province said.

"Having a CGM has been life-changing in that it gives me a safety net that it's always on me," 17-year-old Savannah Seibel told CBC's Edmonton AM on Wednesday.

The monitors use a sensor inserted under the skin that constantly measures blood glucose levels. The information is transmitted to another device like a cellphone or an insulin pump. 

Seibel, who was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes when she was five years old, has been wearing the monitoring device since she was 13. She has not had to worry about her blood sugar levels while taking part in different activities.

"It was always a risk with doing things that involved high levels of activity or just going to sleep at night and not being conscious to be able to feel those things," she said.

Her monitor also automatically adjusts how much insulin she receives, eliminating the fear of her blood sugar dropping to dangerous levels, which can result in fainting or in some instances seizures.

CMG devices are expensive, often costing $3,000 to $5,000 a year.

The province subsidizing the cost of continuous glucose monitors will make them more accessible for a lot of people without extensive health insurance, said Dr. Peter Senior, director of the Alberta Diabetes Institute at the University of Alberta.

"It really kind of levels the playing field for poor families who have children with Type 1 diabetes," Senior told CBC on Wednesday.

A competing technology for monitoring blood sugar levels is the flash glucose monitoring system. Unlike the continuous monitoring system, the flash system needs to be scanned in order to read the levels. Some provinces, including Ontario, have chosen to cover the flash device, which is cheaper than CMG, costing around $2,400 a year. 

To be included in the Alberta program, parents have to be part of a government-sponsored supplementary health benefit plan. The cost depends on what plan individuals have.

Low income families can access it through Alberta Child Health Benefit, Alberta Adult Health Benefit or Income Support and Assured Income for the Severely Handicapped at no cost.

Everyone else pays monthly premiums. That coverage, administered by Alberta Blue Cross, costs $118 for families, or $82.60 if subsidized.

The continuous glucose monitors are Phase 2 of the province's three-part plan to provide enhanced care and better access to technology for Albertans with diabetes.

Phase 1, announced last August, provided coverage for diabetes test strips and supplies.

Alberta Health said the final phase will be announced in coming months.

The government expects to spend about $1 million on the monitoring systems in the remainder of the current fiscal year, which ends March 31. For the fiscal year 2022-23, the expenditure is estimated to be $6 million.

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