NDP pushes for more consultation before any Alberta insulin pump program changes

Alberta's Official Opposition wants the province to conduct more public consultation sessions with Insulin Pump Therapy Program (IPTP) users before any further changes are announced.

David Shepherd, NDP health critic, revealed Monday that lobbyists registered to meet with provincial officials seven months before eligibility changes to the program were announced.

On May 2, Health Minister Jason Copping announced changes to the IPTP that would make it more expensive for Albertans who don't qualify for low-income status and are without private or employer insurance.

Pumps can cost around $7,000 and must be replaced at least every five years. Additionally, other required supplies can be $900 a month.

"This change will allow us to cover more expensive insulin pumps, so we expect it will save about, ballpark, $9 million," Copping said, adding that fewer pumps overall will be bought by the government.

A week later, after backlash from Albertans with diabetes, Copping indicated the province would be pausing plans to alter IPTP eligibility and apologized for the lack of consultation.

According to the NDP, Pathway Advocacy Services, on behalf of Tandem Diabetes Care Canada Inc., filed paperwork in September 2021 to lobby Alberta Health Services, Alberta Health, the premier's office, finance and treasury department members, and MLAs about insulin pumps and other "specialized drug benefits" until December 2021.

The application sought approval to arrange one or more meetings, "informal communications," telephone appeals, electronic and hard copy "written communication," alongside other "grassroots communication."

"If the government has time to meet with lobbyists who want to boost sales for their clients' technology, the government has time to meet with people with diabetes," Shepherd said. "It's episodes like this that underscore that Albertans cannot trust the UCP with their healthcare."

'NOTHING TO DO WITH THE PROPOSED CHANGES'

Steve Buick, Copping's press secretary, told CTV News Edmonton that the meetings referred to by the NDP "had nothing to do with the proposed changes to the insulin pump program."

"It was part of the prescribed process for Alberta to meet with industry representatives as the lead province in negotiating pricing agreements for insulin pumps and related supplies, through the Pan-Canadian Pharmaceutical Alliance (PCPA)," Buick said.

Buick added that lobby meetings part of the PCPA process are not allowed to focus on program design changes, only on pricing discussions.

"The proposed change (to the IPTP) remains on hold," Buick said. "The intent from the start was to transition to a new funding model, without taking a pump away from anyone.

"We're sorry we announced the general policy direction before we did the detailed work to see how to make the transition without leaving anyone behind," he added.

Pump 4 Life, an organization founded after the IPTP initial cancellation announcement and representing more than 4,000 people relying on the program, has been seeking meetings with Copping to discuss the need to continue the program.

"This is a program that covers the cost of an insulin pump and the therapy that goes with it," said Lesley Thompson, co-founder and Pump 4 Life organizer. "Without this program, most people would not be able to afford to continue with insulin pump therapy."

Thompson added that updating the program with newer technology is necessary, but eliminating coverage is "not acceptable," especially since the program has covered Albertans for 10 years.

Since announcing a pause to IPTP changes, the province hosted one consultation session, that Thompson said was nothing more than a question and answer session.

"We have asked to have a seat at the table with Health Minister Copping," she said. "Not only have we not heard back from him with our request to meet and discuss the IPTP, but nobody has heard any updates on the IPTP."

With files from CTV News Edmonton's Sean Amato