Nfld. & Labrador

No insulin pump coverage a 'bombshell' — and could be a $1.3M hit to N.L.

People with diabetes are calling on Newfoundland and Labrador's government to make a change they say will protect their health and save the province money.

Newfoundland and Labrador residents with lose coverage for insulin pumps after turning 25

Maria Hibbs, 24, has been using an insulin pump to help manage Type 1 diabetes for about a decade. (Mark Quinn/ CBC)

People with diabetes are calling on Newfoundland and Labrador's government to make a change they say will protect their health and save the province more than a million dollars.

They want MCP to pay for insulin pumps for everyone in the province with Type 1 diabetes — not just people under the age of 25.

To have this bombshell dropped on you when you turn this age is really unfortunate.- Maria Hibbs

Maria Hibbs is one of more than 2,700 people in the province with Type 1 diabetes. An insulin pump has been helping her stay healthy for a decade, but with her 25th birthday just weeks away, she fears that could change.

"It's scary. It's a scary thought because my quality of life has really improved since I got the insulin pump," she said. "It's going to be really financially hard to basically look after my health."

People with Type 1 diabetes don't produce enough insulin to control their blood sugar. If their blood-sugar level gets too high it can lead to organ failure, blindness, comas — even death. A pump provides a steady supply of insulin to maintain the proper level.

"In the long run (with a pump), you are going to see less health issues and less of a burden on the health-care system," said Hibbs.

Hibbs receives insulin from her pump through a tube attached to her arm. (CBC)

The alternative to a pump is injecting insulin with needles several times a day.

Research has shown that using needles is more likely to result in health complications but that's what Hibbs may have to do after she turns 25 and coverage for her pump ends.

"To have this bombshell dropped on you when you turn this age is really unfortunate," she said.

A pump costs more than $5,000 and supplies are a few hundred dollars a month.

"I'm pretty worried about it. I'm probably going to have to get a full-time job while I'm in school to cover the costs of that," she said.

Medical students calling for change

Medical students at Memorial University have also been advocating for insulin pump coverage for all Newfoundland and Labrador residents.

Maggie O'Dea, a second-year medical student at Memorial University, says expanding insulin pump coverage would save the province money. (Sherry Vivian/CBC)

"By lifting the age restriction on the NL pump program, the province will not only improve the health and quality of life of people with Type 1 diabetes who depend on pump therapy, but will also achieve substantial cost savings through reductions in expenses due to diabetes complications," said Maggie O'Dea, a medical student and a MUN representative on the Canadian Federation of Medical Students' government affairs and advocacy committee.

In 2017, they called for Medical Care Plan coverage of the abortion pill, Mifegymiso.

Limited insulin coverage began more than a decade ago

The province began covering insulin pumps for everyone under the age of 18 in 2007. In March 2010, Newfoundland and Labrador expanded coverage for the insulin pump therapy to include individuals aged 18 to 25.

British Columbia and Ontario have removed all age restrictions for the pumps, and MUN medical students are calling for Newfoundland and Labrador to do the same.

Diabetes Canada has been advocating for the expansion of public funding of insulin pumps for many years.

"Significant evidence already exists demonstrating the medical benefits of insulin pumps versus multiple daily injections," says a 2012 report by the association.

Insulin pumps help people with Type 1 diabetes control their blood-sugar level and avoid complications such as heart disease and organ failure. (Mark Quinn/CBC)

"These benefits also lead to a real cost saving for the government, through a reduction in costly diabetes complications, such as limb amputation and kidney failure."

The association says expanding the program would produce a net savings in health costs for the province.

"By 2032 the expanded program will not only pay for itself, but will provide the province a net savings of approximately $1.3 million," it said.

Medical students advocating for the change met with Health Minister John Haggie on March 20 to make their case.

They say he didn't reject their proposal but was "noncommittal" and asked for more information about the costs and benefits of expanding coverage.

CBC requested comment from the Department of Health and Community Services, but were told Haggie wouldn't be available before publication of this story.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador


Mark Quinn

CBC News

Mark Quinn is a videojournalist with CBC's bureau in St. John's.


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