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Alberta drops proposed changes to insulin pump program

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Health Minister Jason Copping announced Thursday morning that the province will not be going ahead with proposed changes to the insulin pump program.

“I have decided to cancel the proposed shift to the changes in the insulin pump therapy program to government sponsored benefits,” he said Thursday. “To be clear, there will be no changes to the current program.”

The government faced criticism from individuals and organizations alike after announcing the changes in May.

“I recognize that we did not approach this in the best way possible, and I have subsequently stopped this change. I also make a commitment to consult with Albertans who use insulin pumps to hear their concerns and to determine how best to move forward,” he said.

Copping also announced that new pumps would be added to the program.

Currently, Albertans taking advantage of the program have access to the following pumps:

  • The Omnipod Insulin Management System manufactured by Insulet Canada
  • The MiniMed 630G Insulin Pump System manufactured by Medtronic Canada

The following pumps will be added to the program as soon as possible:

  • The Minimed 670G Insulin Pump System and Minimed 770G Insulin Pump System manufactured by Medtronic Canada
  • The YpsoPump insulin pump manufactured by Ypsomed Canada Inc.
  • The t:slim X2 Insulin Pump with Basal IQ technology and the t:slim X2 Insulin Pump with Control IQ technology manufactured by Tandem Diabetes Care Canada, Inc.

More information can be found on the government’s website.

PREVIOUSLY PROPOSED CHANGES

If the changes had gone ahead, anyone who doesn’t qualify for low-income status or doesn’t have private employer insurance would have had to buy coverage through Blue Cross starting in August.

The pumps cost about $7,000 and must be replaced every five years. Additionally, other supplies can cost up to $900 per month.

Copping said when the changes were announced that it was being done to keep the program more sustainable for low-income Albertans.

"This change will allow us to cover more expensive insulin pumps, so we expect it will save about, ballpark, $9 million," he said on May 3, because fewer pumps overall will be bought by the government.

Diabetes Canada sent a letter to Copping, asking for a meeting to discuss the changes.

"Diabetes Canada is extremely concerned about the negative impact this decision will have on the health of Albertans enrolled in the IPTP and the additional costs they will be forced to incur," reads the letter, written by Russell Williams, a senior vice-president at Diabetes Canada.

“We have heard from Albertans living with type 1 diabetes that their private plans do not routinely cover insulin pumps, or their plans are capped at an annual maximum, which further increases out-of-pocket costs for diabetes management. This may also result in the unintended consequences of increasing medical interventions in the public health system."

A week after the announcement, Copping said that changes to the program would be paused, pending further public consultation.

 

LOBBYING ALLEGATIONS

On June 27, David Shepherd, NDP health critic, revealed that lobbyists registered to meet with provincial officials seven months before eligibility changes to the program were announced.

The NDP said 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 group was seeking 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."

Copping’s press secretary, Steve Buick, fired back, telling 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 said 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.

PROVINCE PROMISES FURTHER CONSULTATION

While the changes to the program have been halted, Copping announced on Thursday that a working group will be launched to assess the needs of Albertans living with diabetes.

“Given the growing population of Albertans diagnosed with diabetes, a long term pathway needs to be determined so Albertans can manage their diabetes and lower their risk of adverse outcomes and reduce the demand that’s on our health-care system,” he said.

“The cost per diabetic Albertan and the total cost of diabetes has increased over the last few years, and we need to continue to look at ways to manage that growth while we continue to provide access to new, evidence based therapies and supports.”

Copping said the group will include patients, doctors, diabetes organizations and researchers.

More details are expected at a later date. 

With files from CTV News Edmonton’s Sean Amato, Adam Lachacz, and Chelan Skulski.

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