Sleep apnea machine funding changes put patients at risk: NDP

Manitoba's NDP and a small group of people with sleep apnea say they can't rest easy with changes to provincial subsidies for machines needed to treat the condition.

Patients will have to pay $500 for CPAP machine, plus about $350 yearly for supplies, starting April 23

Wayne Bowman says he hasn't been without his sleep apnea machine since being diagnosed five years ago. (Jaison Empson/CBC)

Manitoba's NDP says changes to the way the province funds machines needed to treat sleep apnea could hurt thousands of people who have the common ailment.

On Wednesday — the first day of the spring sitting of the Manitoba Legislature — the party brought along patients suffering with the condition who object to changes around the funding of continuous positive airway pressure, or CPAP, machines.

"I can't sleep without it," said Wayne Bowman.

He hasn't been without his CPAP machine for more than two or three nights since he was diagnosed with sleep apnea five years ago.

Sleep apnea causes people to stop breathing momentarily or suffer shallow breathing when they sleep. It has been linked to a variety of other conditions including heart disease, obesity and depression.

The CPAP machines used to treat it deliver steady air pressure through a hose to a mask worn by patients as they sleep.

The cost of the machines had previously been covered by the province, as was the roughly $350 yearly cost for supplies needed to maintain the machines.

Starting April 23, patients will need to pay $500 to replace their machines and are on their own to purchase supplies, the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority said in a January announcement. The cost is a flat fee and will not be income-tested, Manitoba Health Minister Kelvin Goertzen said Wednesday.

Manitoba Health Minister Kelvin Goertzen said the province's CPAP funding is among the most generous in Canada. (Jaison Empson/CBC)

The program is expected to save the health authority roughly $4.9 million per year, the WRHA said in January, although Goertzen said Wednesday savings will depend on how many people are diagnosed annually.

Bowman said he's worried it will put sleep apnea treatment out of reach for some Manitobans, or prevent people from replacing the equipment as frequently as needed.

"What's going to happen is that the equipment is no longer safe," Bowman said.

"So some savings for the province upfront are going to lead, in my opinion, to respiratory problems, to hospitalization — goodness, one even dares talk about mortality, because there's going to be people who should be coming into the program who won't."

Program among 'most generous': Goertzen

"This is another example of [Premier Brian] Pallister trying to save a dime today, but costing us in the long run," Opposition NDP Leader Wab Kinew said in a press release Wednesday.

"I've talked to many Manitobans who won't be able to afford Pallister's fees, and without treatment they could suffer from severe complications down the road."

Goertzen said even with the changes, Manitoba still has one of the most generous CPAP programs in Canada.

"There are more people being diagnosed with sleep apnea, not just in Manitoba but across Canada. The sustainability of the program is important," the health minister told reporters after question period.

The Winnipeg health authority supplies roughly 16,000 people with CPAP equipment, it told CBC News in January, and about 2,800 new patients sign up per year.

Goertzen said machines cost between $1,200 and $1,500, so the province will still fund a large portion of the cost.

"Recognizing that any changes can be difficult, we are still pleased that we have one of the most generous programs in Canada for sleep apnea patients," he said.

​Bowman said he'll find a way to make the payments, but he doesn't feel the province has a good understanding of what's at stake.

"I've got to say, I think that those who have proposed this cut don't really understand what sleep apnea is and its far-reaching ramifications," he said.

"Heart disease, diabetes — all kinds of things are impacted by this. It's not just a matter of 'can I sleep comfortably at night.'"