The Alberta government is pressing pause on changes to the provincial insulin pump program.
“We are doing a pause on our program and I want to apologize to Albertans due to the confusion,” Health Minister Jason Copping said during question period Thursday. “There are a lot of questions we haven’t answered yet.”
The pause comes 10 days after the Alberta government announced changes to the Insulin Pump Therapy Program, ostensibly removing provincial coverage for insulin pumps, a convenient and unobtrusive method for people with diabetes to administer the potentially life-saving drug.
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“Those currently receiving benefits through the Insulin Pump Therapy Program will need to obtain coverage through a government-sponsored health benefit plan by Aug. 1 if they do not have employer-sponsored or private insurance coverage,” a May 2 press release said.
The pause is to allow for further consultation with Albertans.
“Evidently, Mr. Speaker, given concerns raised by some of my caucus colleagues, by the members across the aisle – and I have heard directly from Albertans who rely on the program themselves – we didn’t do enough,” Copping said in the legislature.
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Copping said there was a clinical advisory committee and some consultations before the early May announcement.
“To be clear, we are not implementing this program on August 1st.”
The health minister promised town halls and reaching out to “each and every individual person on the program to understand what impact that has on them” and to make changes to the policy following those consultations.
The comments come after the health minister called Diabetes Canada to apologize for the previous policy direction and to solicit feedback from the national organization.
In an open letter issued on Tuesday, Diabetes Canada said the proposed changes placed an undue burden on Albertans.
“We know that added costs adversely affect the ability of some to manage their disease optimally, which impacts quality of life and risks their short- and long-term health,” the national advocacy group said.
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When pressed by Edmonton-City Centre MLA David Shepherd on whether the health minister would not put anyone in financial jeopardy as a result of changes to the insulin pump program, Copping said he would put the interests of Albertans first.
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“We are going to ensure that we can protect those who need this, because there shouldn’t be a choice between being able to manage this chronic disease and then putting food on the table,” he said.
On Twitter, Shepherd called it “a victory for the thousands of Albertans who spoke out” against the plan.
Opposition leader Rachel Notley tweeted it was a “small victory, but health care remains in chaos.”
“This is because so many of you spoke out,” she wrote. “You spoke up for kids fearing they would go to school without insulin. You demanded better.”
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Diabetes Canada was “pleased” with the provincial about-face, commending those who voiced their concerns over the previously-announced changes.
“The Type 1 Diabetes community deserves to be engaged in government decisions that will impact their quality of life and Diabetes Canada will continue to advocate to all governments and private payers for improved access to diabetes medications, devices, supplies and services,” Joan King, director of Alberta government relations for Diabetes Canada, said in a statement.
Before question period began, Edmonton-Decore MLA Chris Nielsen said his daughter was one of the more than 200,000 Albertans living with diabetes.
Nielsen said he heard from “countless diabetic Albertans” about how the insulin pump technology has “given them their lives back.”
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“The insulin pump has become, for many, a fact of life, something that they depend on,” Nielsen said in a member statement. “This government should never have messed with the essential medical supplies that thousands upon thousands of Albertans rely upon to live their lives.”
Copping said he understood that under the previously-proposed changes most Albertans would have insulin pumps covered by a Blue Cross program or a private plan.
“If there are some people who are not going to be covered and this is going to be a financial hardship for them to get access to it, we need to address it and make changes to the program,” he told reporters.
The health minister wasn’t able to put a timeline on when the resulting changes would be announced, but said a new policy would be coming in “weeks, not months.”
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