New Brunswick

Fredericton woman ends petition after province agrees to cover prosthetic eyes

Piano teacher Cheryl Gillespie began publicly petitioning the government in 2016 to increase Medicare coverage for those requiring prosthetic eyes. Now, two years later, she's decided to close the petition due to the headway she's made with the provincial government.

People requiring an eye prosthesis had 80% of their cost covered as of March 1, 2018

Cheryl Gillespie lost her sight when she was a child, but it wasn’t until she became an adult that she had to get prosthetic eyes. Her eyes had deteriorated due to disease and had to be removed. (Submitted)

Piano teacher Cheryl Gillespie began lobbying the provincial government in 2016 to increase Medicare coverage for those requiring prosthetic eyes.

Now, two years later, she's decided to close the petition due to the headway she's made with the provincial government.

As of March 1, people requiring an eye prosthesis in New Brunswick will have 80 per cent of their cost covered by Medicare.

"I'm relieved," said Gillespie. "It's better than it was before."

Gillespie was diagnosed with Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis, a type of arthritis causing joint pain and stiffness, when she was two years old. 

Gillespie lost her sight when she was a child, but it wasn't until she became an adult that she had to get prosthetic eyes. Her eyes had deteriorated due to the disease and had to be removed.  

But Medicare only covered the cost of prostheses for children under 18 years old, and eye prosthetics require replacement every five years. So, Gillespie decided to go public with her fight for coverage in 2016.

Now, she said she's closing the petition because she's satisfied with the coverage the province now offers. 

"I am pleased that the message that I worked so hard to deliver, was received loud and clear, and now NB is a model which other jurisdictions will have to look up to," she said in the update to her online petition.

A necessity 

Before this year, there was no prosthetic eye medicare coverage for people over 18, unless you went through the Department of Social Development or had a private insurance company that provided it.

Paul Bradley, a communications officer for the Department of Health, said in an email that there are 700 people in New Brunswick who have ocular prostheses.

"This [new] program addresses gaps and will ensure residents, who have lost one or both eyes, have access to the services of a qualified ocularist," Bradley said, though he didn't say whether Gillespie's petition influenced the change. 

Gillespie said prosthetic eyes are a necessity and without them, the eye socket can become infected. That infection can spread to the brain and lead to death.  

'A long 2 years' 

Gillespie said the cost of prosthetic eyes is currently around $2,250 per eye. But the cost is double for Gillespie, who requires prosthetics in both eyes.

Instead of paying $4,500 to replace both prosthetic eyes every five years, Gillespie will pay about $900 under the new program.

"If I were not able to have prosthetic eyes and just have, you know, empty eye sockets, I would have to give up teaching," said Gillespie, who's been teaching piano for 30 years.

The new program covers the fitting of ocular prosthesis by a professional, the replacement, repair, resurfacing and re-polishing of prostheses and related house or hospital calls.

Gillespie said one drawback to the new program is that patients still have to pay the full cost up-front and wait to be reimbursed.

"The paying up-front and in full is going to cause hardship, still, for some people," Gillespie said.

Still, she said the coverage is better than nothing. She's due to replace her prosthetic eyes next year.

"It's just been a long two years."

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