B.C. families still forking out for insulin pumps

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      Parents of kids with Type 1 diabetes still have no guarantee from B.C. health minister George Abbott that his ministry will cover the cost of insulin pumps.

      "That is an issue that is currently under review by the ministry," Abbott told the Georgia Straight on September 28, following the closing press conference for the yearlong public consultation called the B.C. Conversation on Health. "So, the health professionals who are evaluating that continue their work, and I expect that I will be getting a recommendation from them sometime in the weeks ahead."

      Mary Polak–the B.C. Liberal MLA for Langley who acted as parliamentary secretary for the consultation–and Minister of State for Childcare Linda Reid (Richmond East) joined Abbott at the wrap-up, held in the ambulatory-care building at BC Children's Hospital. The press conference also marked the unveiling of an Ipsos Reid poll on child health, conducted between May 22 and June 4 on behalf of the BC Children's Hospital Foundation, involving 673 B.C. children aged 10 to 16. Not surprisingly, the focus of the wrap-up was almost entirely on "youth".

      "The things we do today will have a huge impact on the health-care system they will inherit 20, 40, or 60 years on from now," Abbott said.

      However, while they touched on Type 2 diabetes, the MLAs neglected to mention Type 1 diabetes in their comments. With Type 1 diabetes, the immune system attacks and kills beta cells in the pancreas, wiping out insulin production. Insulin absorbs blood sugar, which is converted to energy. In the more common Type 2 diabetes–often associated with obesity–the pancreas doesn't produce enough insulin or doesn't properly use the insulin produced. Type 2 diabetes can often be controlled with improved nutrition and medication, and Abbott told reporters it was "near epidemic in our society".

      "The best way to reverse that is to adopt healthier lifestyles," he said.

      This is cold comfort to parents like Cheryl Simpson. Along with her husband, Steve, Simpson forked over more than $7,000 for an insulin pump for their 10-year-old daughter, Ellery, who was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes in 2004. Although Ellery lives an active life, she does require blood tests, which involve painful finger-pricking several times a day. She also required multiple daily insulin injections until her parents bought the pump, which Cheryl Simpson said is "the size of an MP3 player or a pager".

      "It is the closest thing we have right now to an artificial pancreas," she said. "Inside the insulin pump is a small reservoir that you fill up with rapid-acting insulin. The pump has a function on it–and you calculate this with your diabetes administrator–for what your basal rate is. All of us with a normally functioning pancreas have a pancreas that gives out tiny bits of insulin all throughout the day. And when we eat, our pancreas says, 'Oh, you have eaten' and gives you more insulin to counteract the carbohydrates you've had. What the insulin pump does is give out this basal rate of insulin all day, and you can change how much it gives you overnight. Then when you eat, you”¦count the carbs, and your pump calculates how much insulin you should get for that meal."

      The Ontario Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care pays the entire cost of insulin pumps for residents 18 years and under, and covers the cost of supplies up to $2,400 per year.

      "We announced it in November 2006, but then we made it retroactive back to April of that year," ministry spokesperson David Jensen told the Straight by phone. "I guess it was identified as a need out there for young people with diabetes, and that this could be a useful device for them–especially those people that are not having success with the multiple daily insulin injections. If that young person is willing to be trained in the proper use of the pump, we saw it as an effective device for them to be able to use to help with their condition."

      Cheryl Simpson said some extended medical plans do cover a portion of the cost of pumps in this province. "We were able to stickhandle around it and pay the money [upfront]," she said. "What really irked me was I knew how many children were out there whose parents could not afford a $7,400 hit and then [have to] wait for a percentage of the insurance to come back three months later from an insurance company. Running a pump runs anywhere from $300 to $500 a month, and that is for all the supplies."

      In an interview with the Straight on May 10, Abbott said officials in his ministry were reviewing the PharmaCare program's coverage of diabetes medications and related supplies. Cheryl Simpson feels that this is unacceptable.

      "By the time we hit any kind of number where the PharmaCare might kick in, it is [too high]," she said. "I don't think I or anyone [else] should be held hostage to what PharmaCare is going to cover, when you are talking about the life of my child. This is not cosmetic surgery. This is life or death. There is just no monkeying with that, especially when you see all the other stuff that is funded–it drives you insane."

      It also bothers Dr. Bruce Verchere, director of the diabetes-research program at BC Children's Hospital. Verchere was not available for an interview, but on May 10 he told the Straight that pumps represent a "great improvement" on daily insulin injections.

      "But it's only available to the more better-off," he said. "The same is true of some other aspects of care that the patients are on the hook for."

      Provincial NDP health critic Adrian Dix told the Straight he was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes in 1992 but does not use an insulin pump.

      "But clearly if you give people with diabetes resources, that is the best way to address long-term health and chronic-disease management."



      Ms T

      Nov 3, 2007 at 6:47pm

      Well according to an article in Synergy Magazine, all you have to do is be educated and resourceful.... this is very unfair... I hope either all or none have the access to this pump....
      Author: Helena Green

      Website: www.members.shaw.ca/seekers

      I have diabetes. It’s the type that statistics show to be the second highest cause of death (the first being accidents) in Canada. This condition (they don’t call it a disease) is the result of the body not producing enough insulin to break down the food that we ingest into small enough particles for the body to absorb. The various complications that can result over time include kidney, heart and brain diseases, plus nerve damage and/or blindness. In other words, it’s serious. In order to continue living, I have taken approximately 36,500 injections (one of life’s cruel jokes since I abhor needles) of insulin over the last forty years while manifesting, to various degrees, the typical long-term complications.
      From the time that I discovered the ”˜insulin pump’ (a pager-size gizmo one wears that emulates the work of the pancreas) as a treatment for diabetes, my world opened up in both freedom in lifestyle and hope for survival.
      After 5 years of ”˜pumping,’ this life-line broke. In a panic, I called the company, friends and family, past associates, advocates, service clubs, my MLA and MP, and everyone who I could think of for ideas on how to replace the $6,000 device. This initial search included the Ministry of Employment and Income Assistance, People With Disabilities (PWD) office wherefrom, as a client, I receive life giving medication.
      After a number of weeks with little definitive or tenable progress (a few dear ones talked about a community fundraiser while my mother and one other angel were prepared to take on the debt – bless them), I learned that my MLA’s assistant had made inquiries on my behalf with the Ministry. She was able to connect with the supervisor at the PWD office who was intimately aware of the necessity for this life-giving pump. (Her personal support throughout my quest brought much needed hope and light to an otherwise very dim situation.)
      Throughout the process, everyone cautioned me that the relevant provincial legislation did not support my circumstances. So our approach (over a period of months) with the Ministry was to apply and then probably be denied by the ruling authorities. From this platform we were to launch an appeal.
      At this point, I have to mention how difficult it is, as a recipient, to deal with the hopelessly overloaded infrastructure. Normally, a client does not have access to a particular office, let alone a human being at any particular location. Instead, one calls the toll free number, with a disembodied voice deciding on your fate.
      But I was fortunate in connecting with a sympathetic worker when I called in the first place. The application form that I received from him had his portion (as a representative of the Ministry) filled out, thereby completing step one of my journey. To complete the form, I was to get a quote from the pump manufacturer and a testament from my doctor that the pump was, in fact, vital as a treatment for my medical condition. With the precious, completed documentation in hand (it took another couple of weeks to line up what I needed), I excitedly went to the PWD office where I knew that the supervisor would be waiting.
      Instead of a smooth ”˜hand-off’ to the worker behind the formidable counter, I was tersely told that I should never have received the form in the first place (as it was contrary to the legislation) and the application was confiscated! After a few heart stopping minutes and a fair amount of explanation, the clerk acquiesced and helped the process along.
      In the moment, I silently reflected on how blessed I was to have the education, perspective and resourcefulness to take on the challenge. At the same time, I sadly thought about how many people much like me, in their need for support, are inevitably lost in the trenches of poverty and hopelessness.
      After three months of telephone calls, meetings, appointments, paperwork and emails, I was surprisingly granted (as a one time only - ever, exception to the rule) the funding for the life-giving medical device which I wear today.
      This miracle definitely lies at the feet of the dear ones who embraced me, in my time of dire need. Yet, I like to think that my unswerving focus and conviction, that I would somehow receive what I needed, constituted my part in co-creating the pump. Of course, partnered with this certainty was my taking action. The rest was Source, pure and simple.
      Ultimately, my platform and formula for manifesting is grounded in my belief that I am divinely guided and protected. I am (and will always be) immensely grateful to the individuals who personally backed my quest. It’s uplifting and just plain fun to lavish special people with love and appreciation. Plus, I believe that my thankfulness is a positive dynamic in receiving blessings daily. It’s all good.