B.C. diabetics hoping for ‘life-changing’ coverage in new pharmacare bill

Click to play video: 'B.C. diabetes patients await Pharmacare details'
B.C. diabetes patients await Pharmacare details
WATCH: British Columbians who pay hundreds of dollars each month to manage their diabetes are eagerly awaiting details of the federal pharmacare deal. Cassidy Mosconi reports – Feb 28, 2024

People living with diabetes in B.C. who pay hundreds of dollars every month for necessary medication are anxiously awaiting the details of Canada’s new national pharmacare program.

Pharmacare legislation flowing from a deal between the federal Liberals and NDP is expected to be introduced in the House of Commons as early as Thursday or Friday. While details about coverage have not been made public, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh has said diabetes medication will be included.

“I don’t want to get my hopes up but they are kind of already up because it would change so much for me,” Burnaby resident Amber Malott told Global News.

Click to play video: 'NDP reaches national pharmacare deal with Liberals. Here’s what it will cover'
NDP reaches national pharmacare deal with Liberals. Here’s what it will cover

Malott learned she had Type 1 diabetes more than 10 years ago when she went into a coma just before her 21st birthday. The disease, which is genetic, has shaped virtually every aspect of her life since then.

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“It’s a constant thought. Every meal I have, every activity is going to affect it,” she said. “An unplanned pregnancy could like kill me … everything kind of revolves around that.”

To regulate her blood-sugar level, Malott relies on two types of insulin and multiple injections a day. Along with additional medication to help with insulin resistance, testing strips and needles, her monthly bill just to stay healthy runs close to $900.

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“It’s like a whole paycheque a month just to cover what I need to stay alive,” she said.”I don’t make enough to cover the extra costs, but I make too much to qualify for any extra help … It feels very hopeless sometimes. I could make 10 more dollars an hour and it’s not going to change.”

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In order to make ends meet, Malott lives with her parents. She said she’s virtually given up on starting a family because she fears she wouldn’t be able to afford to care for them and for herself.

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“I’m 31 years old and it’s really embarrassing to say I still live with my parents because I am completely reliant on them being able to help me. I could never afford to live on my own,” she said. “If I moved in with a partner I would be 100 per cent reliant on them to support me — it’s not a position you really want to be in.”

Dr. Tom Elliott, endocrinology medical director at B.C.’s LifestyleRX, said covering the cost of medication is the biggest obstacle diabetic patients with an income level above welfare face.

“In B.C. we’ve got a deductible. The deductible is such that many working people never reach it many working people can’t afford it so lots of people go without,” he said.

Click to play video: 'Petition calls for coverage of Type 1 diabetes costs'
Petition calls for coverage of Type 1 diabetes costs

Elliott is hoping the pharmacy program will cover all necessary treatments for people with diabetes, and won’t be means-tested.

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He said there is a misconception that people with diabetes somehow deserve it. While some types of diabetes are more common among people with weight and fitness issues, many heavy people never develop it, he said, while other people do for genetic and age-related reasons.

Too many people with diabetes, he added, either don’t take full doses of their medication or are left taking risks like re-using their needles.

“It’s a huge win. I mean, it shouldn’t be a win, it’s something that my clients and everybody else living with diabetes in this province deserves. But it’ll be a very big deal,” he said of potential pharmacare coverage. “There will be a great deal of celebrating and lots of people will be able to afford these life-changing, life-saving therapies.”

Back in Burnaby, Malott is watching closely for an announcement that could reshape the way she lives.

“It will literally change my life, it will make it so I am able to move out and be independent of my parents and have a life on my own,” she said. “Diabetes won’t be everything about me like it is now.”

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