Some Albertans with diabetes losing provincial coverage for insulin pumps

For Lisa Hart, an Albertan living with type-one diabetes, the opportunity to buy an insulin pump nine years ago was life changing.

"It really is life and death. It has kept me out of hospital so many times, it just makes my control so much better," she told CTV News Edmonton.

But changes this week to the province’s Insulin Pump Therapy Program will make it more expensive for some Albertans to get their hands on one.

Anyone who doesn't qualify for low-income status and is without private or employer insurance will have to buy coverage through Blue Cross starting in August.

"It's the people in those middle income brackets that will suffer, because they will end up paying more," Hart said.

Pumps cost about $7,000 and need to be replaced every five years. That's in addition to other supplies which can run about $900 a month.

"For those who don’t have private coverage, they can get coverage through Blue Cross. So yes, they will have some premiums associated, but what this does is sets us up for success down the road," Health Minister Jason Copping said Tuesday.

With the number of Albertans with diabetes expected to grow, and devices becoming more expensive, Copping said changes like this allow the province to cover the cost for those most in need.

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

Copping's ministry confirms Albertans enrolled in low-income, government-sponsored drug programs will continue to receive pumps and supplies at no cost.

"Undoubtedly, some people will be spending more than they're paying now because they're paying nothing," said Dr. Peter Senior, Director of Alberta Diabetes Institute.

"But for other people, it gives them an opportunity to participate that they might not have had before and that sustainability is important."

Senior still has questions about exactly what devices are covered, but says it should improve access to pumps with newer technology for everyone, without risking the program becoming so expensive that the government cancels it.

 "I think the people that I do worry about are the people in the middle…there will be people who will have premiums that'll be $100 or $115 a month. But overall I think it's a good deal for many, relative to what they might have had to do before," Senior said.

Roughly 25,000 Albertans have type-one diabetes, he estimated.

The government's changes are little comfort to patients like Hart, who suspects everyone could end up paying more in the long run.

"Just consider how much this will cost, ultimately, the health system, if we don't have access to the technology that we need," she said.

With files from CTV News Edmonton's Chelan Skulski