Alta. has high diabetes rate but won't fund insulin pumps

Alberta has the fastest-growing rate of diabetes in the country but the province still doesn’t have a publicly funded program to pay for insulin pumps, says the Canadian Diabetes Association in a new report.

A total of 217,000 people, or 5.8 per cent of Albertans, were diagnosed with one of the two forms of diabetes last year, the association says. That’s expected to rise to 8.6 per cent by 2020.

Those with Type 1 diabetes, or juvenile diabetes, require multiple injections of insulin a day, to help manage their blood sugar levels. Many of those with Type 2, or adult-onset diabetes, also require insulin.

Insulin pumps make managing the disease a little easier, by delivering the appropriate amount of insulin when required throughout the day and eliminating the need for manual injections.

But the pumps can be expensive, costing as much as $6,000 a year to maintain. While most provinces have assisted medical devices programs to help defer those costs, Alberta is one of just three provinces that still does not pay for the pumps.

Canadian Diabetes Association spokesman Mike Cloutier says that’s unacceptable.

“Investing into a publicly funded insulin pump programs make sense both for the health of Albertans and the sustainability of the province’s healthcare system,” he said in a statement Monday.

According to a new report commissioned by the association, the average out-of-pocket expenses for an Albertan living with type 2 diabetes is about $2,500 per year. That includes diabetes medications, devices and supplies, such as needles.

For people with type 1 diabetes, that amount rises to nearly $3,000 per year.

Those who choose to use insulin pumps see their personal expenses rising to more than $6,800 a year — an amount few can afford, the association says.

The CDA says those with diabetes could lead healthier lives by using an insulin pump, and spend less time in hospital managing diabetes complications.

“People living with type 1 diabetes are at high-risk of developing serious long-term complications, such as kidney failure, heart attack, stroke and limb amputation,” said Cloutier.

“Switching from daily insulin injections to an insulin pump can reduce complications and increase the quality of life for people living with type 1 diabetes while, at the same time, saving Alberta’s health system millions of dollars over the next 20 years.”

In fact, Cloutier says, the increased cost to the province of paying for the pumps would be more than made up for in long-term savings in health care.

The CDA report says an insulin pump program could save Alberta up to $10.8 million in the next 20 years because there would be fewer health complications from diabetes.

Alberta Health Minister Gene Zwozdesky attended a Canadian Diabetes Association breakfast Monday for the unveiling of the report.

He responded by saying he can’t promise anything yet, but says the matter is on his radar.

“I’m very convinced by the statistics that I’ve seen so far, so I have to work with our expert committee on this,” he told CTV Edmonton’s Laura Tupper.