Insulin pump town hall only a first step in consultation, health minister says

·3 min read
Health Minister Jason Copping takes questions from reporters at the Alberta legislature on Tuesday.  (Trevor Wilson/CBC - image credit)
Health Minister Jason Copping takes questions from reporters at the Alberta legislature on Tuesday. (Trevor Wilson/CBC - image credit)

A telephone town hall was just a first step to consult with Albertans with diabetes after the provincial government paused plans to end a program designed to support people with Type 1 diabetes, says Health Minister Jason Copping.

The province announced May 2 it would end the Insulin Pump Therapy Program at the beginning of August, forcing diabetics to use their employer benefit plans or Alberta Blue Cross to pay for the devices and supplies.

Copping was forced to put that plan on hold 10 days later, after receiving hundreds of emails from users and their families. The government held a town hall with Alberta Health officials on May 19.

"This is the first step of consultation, to let people understand what our initial thinking was," Copping said Wednesday, during an unrelated news conference.

"Now we need to go to the next step, which is get more feedback in terms of how it's going to impact individuals. Once we get that, then we'll be able to make a decision of how are we going to move forward."

The town hall left Lesley Thompson — an insulin pump user and organizer of Pump4Life, a group advocating to keep Alberta's Insulin Pump Therapy Program — with the impression the government still plans to cut the program.

"They were promoting the Alberta Blue Cross non-group coverage, telling us what the rates were and not actually listening to the people asking the questions," Thompson said.

Alberta Health claimed ending the insulin pump program would allow Albertans to access more technologically advanced devices.

Some users said their benefit plans didn't cover insulin pumps, or placed caps on annual coverage. Others said they couldn't afford the premiums and co-payments charged by Blue Cross.

Copping acknowledged the province had done a poor job of explaining the changes to the program's 4,000 users.

The telephone town hall was supposed to remedy that problem, but Thompson said officials on the call didn't acknowledge concerns about financial hardship.

They didn't say whether there would be additional consultation sessions, nor give a timeline for when the government planned to make a decision, she said.

"The sense that I got from the town hall…was that they're going full steam ahead with the cancellation of the Insulin Pump Therapy Program as we know it, and going toward a user-fee-based program through Alberta Blue Cross," Thompson said.

Copping was asked about these concerns Wednesday.

He insisted no one would be left to choose between insulin and groceries, but he wouldn't provide more details despite repeated attempts by reporters for more specifics.

He noted the need to make the devices more affordable for diabetics, suggesting the government still expected them to pay.

Insulin pumps can cost around $5,000 to $7,000 and must be replaced every five years.

The Pump4Life campaign had 3,300 people send emails to Copping, Premier Jason Kenney, and Opposition NDP health critic David Shepherd within its first 48 hours.

Insulin pump users plan to ramp up its efforts to keep the program in place, Thompson said.

"We are not giving up," she said. "We've had to fight to keep ourselves alive with diabetes. We're not letting the government take us down."

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