Changes to insulin pump therapy program worry some Albertans with diabetes

Some people with type 1 diabetes are concerned that a new health insurance plan will provide them with sufficient medical coverage.

Proposed changes to Alberta’s insulin pump benefits program have some type 1 diabetes patients wondering if they will still be able to afford treatment under a new replacement plan.

An insulin pump is a small, programmable machine that administers the insulin injections needed by patients throughout the day.

The cost of the insulin pumps and a portion of the insulin pump therapy supplies were covered by the Insulin pump therapy programwhich began in 2013 and serves approximately 4,000 Albertans.

But on Tuesday, the province announced that the program would be discontinued on August 1 and replaced with a government-sponsored health benefit plan.

Brooklyn Brooklyn Rhead, from Calgary, has type 1 diabetes and has been using an insulin pump for almost two years.

She said the device gives patients more freedom in managing their disease by removing the need for multiple daily injections.

“An insulin pump is life-changing. It makes everything so much easier. You just have an easier day-to-day life,” Rhead said.

As part of the province’s proposed changes, Rhead said she’s not sure she can afford the device and all the necessary equipment that comes with it.

Insulin pumps and related supplies can cost patients with type 1 diabetes thousands of dollars a year. (Rogelio V. Solis/Associated Press)

“With the change in diet, many type 1 diabetics, myself included, are seeking [for] where we’re going to get our coverage from,” Rhead said.

“I’m not covered by employment or private insurance, so we need to find a way to get the coverage so I can continue with my pump. It’s kind of scary to think I might have to go back to multiple daily injections.”

According to the statement from the provincepatients who do not have employer-sponsored or private insurance coverage will need to enroll in a government-sponsored health benefit plan, which may require monthly premiums or co-payments.

Rhead is concerned that none of the plans offered cover the full costs of insulin pump therapy ⁠—the Omnipod insulin pump she uses alone costs more than $3,000 a year.

Health Minister Jason Copping said the new plan will give people access to better pumps.

“We want to make sure we can cover the costs for as many people as possible, so we’re looking at changing our programs to be able to do that,” he said.

Copping said the changes will save the government about $9 million a year.

NDP Opposition Health Critic David Shepherd said he heard his constituents’ concerns about potential co-pays under a government-sponsored health insurance plan.

“I would like to see more details on how this process was going to work,” he said.

“It is concerning that this government continually turns to private profit instead of improving and supporting the public health care system.”

Rhead said the news could come as a shock to some people with the disease. She didn’t hear about the change directly from the Alberta government, 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 you need insulin to survive,” she added.

“If an insulin pump is the best way to do it, why [is the government] restrict it?

Ryan H. Bowman