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Alberta health minister apologizes, hits pause on changes to insulin pump funding

Woman Using Insulin Pump (Photo: iStock)

Alberta’s health minister says planned changes to funding for insulin pumps are on hold after people with Type 1 diabetes voiced worries about potential financial or medical hardship.

Jason Copping says the changes, which were to begin Aug. 1, are being put off pending consultations to make sure no one is forced to choose between a pump and putting food on the table.

Copping, speaking in the legislature during the question period, apologized to the roughly 4,000 Albertans who use insulin pumps.

The government said last week that it would change how it funds the pumps, small programmable machines that deliver insulin to patients throughout the day.

The idea was for the pumps to be paid for through a government-sponsored payments plan, which prompted concerns that new out-of-pocket costs would be overwhelming for some.

Copping says the consultations are to pinpoint the gaps and ensure they don’t occur.

“We are doing a pause on our program, and I want to apologize to Albertans due to the confusion because there were a lot of questions that we actually hadn’t answered yet,” Copping said Thursday.

“We’re going to make sure no one is going to be left behind. The intent behind this was to be able to expand access and we’re going to make sure we can live up to the intent.”

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The Opposition NDP had joined with concerned patients and national groups, including Diabetes Canada, to flag concerns.

Diabetes Canada, in a letter to Copping this week, urged him to reconsider.
“We have heard from Albertans who will be unable to pay the premium and co-pay imposed by the new policy,” wrote Russell Williams, senior vice-president.

“This will leave them with no other choice but to resume multiple daily injections of insulin and effectively compromise their ability to manage their diabetes.

“In some cases, it may force Albertans to make difficult choices between paying for needed diabetes drugs, devices and supplies or paying for necessities like rent or food.”

Opposition health critic David Shepherd applauded Copping for his decision but urged diabetes patients to remain vigilant.

“This government clearly did not consult as they plowed ahead with this plan that would seriously impact the lives of diabetics,” Shepherd told the house. “This government tried to move fast, and they got caught when Albertans got furious. Now they need to do better.

“While this policy is suspended, Albertans are understandably wary and want to be sure the government is not going to try to do the same thing again.”
Copping has said the changes were to adapt to advancing technology to make sure the pumps and related supplies remain within the reach of the greatest number of people.

The cost of the pumps themselves, as well as a portion of therapy supplies, are currently covered under the program, which began almost a decade ago.