Different government, same problem: P.E.I. leaves diabetes funding unspent

·3 min read
A continuous glucose monitor allows people with diabetes to monitor blood sugar levels using a smart phone. (Colin Mehmel - image credit)
A continuous glucose monitor allows people with diabetes to monitor blood sugar levels using a smart phone. (Colin Mehmel - image credit)

The Opposition Green Party took P.E.I.'s PC government to task during question period Thursday for under spending on support programs for Islanders with diabetes, in this case by almost a million dollars.

It's the same problem the PCs used to rail about when they were in Opposition and the Liberals were in power: the P.E.I. government seems unable or unwilling to spend more than a fraction of the money budgeted each year to help Islanders purchase devices like insulin pumps and glucose monitors so they can manage their diabetes.

In advance of the 2021-22 budget — the budget for the fiscal year that ended just a few weeks ago — the Greens said they provided a submission asking government for another million dollars for diabetes.

But new budget documents for the current fiscal year show most of the money that was allocated last year was never spent.

Support program for glucose monitors hasn't launched

Most notably, of the million dollars earmarked to help Islanders purchase glucose monitors, government is estimating only $250,000 was spent, and when the final numbers are in, the amount could be zero.

Health Minister Ernie Hudson said that funding program, announced as part of last year's budget, isn't set to begin until June 1, 2022. Provincial officials said no grants through the program were awarded in 2021-22.

Other grants for diabetic supplies also came in well below budget:

  • Spending on the province's insulin pump program, budgeted at $127,700, came in at $30,400, less than a quarter of the budgeted amount.

  • Spending on insulin pump supplies and test strips, budgeted at $228,400, came in at $79,500, just over a third of budget.

"A constituent reached out to me just this morning to say that her young son was prescribed continuous glucose monitoring to try to help get his diabetes under control," Green MLA Trish Altass said during question period.

"This is going to cost the family $350 a month, not including supplies. They can't afford this…. This little boy deserves the technology that will allow him to live a full life and just be a kid. Why are you choosing to keep that from him?"

Government of P.E.I.
Government of P.E.I.

Hudson told the house his staff had been unable to roll out the funding program for glucose monitors in the last fiscal year because they were occupied with the province's funding program for the shingles vaccine, which itself was delayed because of COVID-19.

"These have not been normal times," he told the house. "It would have been fantastic if [the glucose monitor] program could have been launched previously, but our staff in health and wellness have been working diligently and working with our partners to get this up and going, to get this running as soon as possible."

For insulin pumps, problem goes back years

The problem of under spending on the province's budget for insulin pumps goes back as far as the program itself, announced by former premier Robert Ghiz in November 2013.

In 2016, then-PC health critic James Aylward (now the province's transportation minister) took the Liberal government of Wade MacLauchlan to task for having spent only about 10 per cent of the money allocated in the first two years of the insulin pump program, calling the lack of spending "disgraceful."

Since then the budget allocation has been cut in half not once, but twice, from about $455,000 per year to the current $127,700.

And yet still most of the money remains unspent.

In 2020 the province broadened the age range for those who qualify, raising the cap from 18 to 25. Advocates have said there should be no cap.

"We should not be putting conditions on who can get access to [these] live-saving supports," said Green MLA Hannah Bell.

"If you are a diabetic who needs to take insulin or whose diabetes is really difficult to control for any reason, insulin pumps will save your life.… We should not be putting barriers in the way."

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