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Diabetes advocates in N.B., N.S. renew call to remove age discrimination cap

Diabetes Canada is making the call once again for New Brunswick and Nova Scotia to remove the age cap on their insulin pump programs. Nathalie Sturgeon/Global News Canada

Diabetes advocates are once again making a call for both New Brunswick and Nova Scotia to remove the age discrimination cap on the respective insulin pump programs as the federal government prepares to legislate a national framework on the disease.

Kim Hanson, the executive director of federal affairs with Diabetes Canada, said the age cap on both province’s programs creates inequities for people who have neither private insurance nor the financial means to pay for the expensive technology.

She said the province does have the chronic management plan side but not a plan for the devices that can be life-saving for diabetic patients.

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“It’s really critically important that we also support the key treatments and devices and supplies that we know help people manage their diabetes well,” she said.

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In 2020, about 34 per cent of people in New Brunswick had diabetes or pre-diabetes and that is expected to rise to 38 per cent in 2030. The picture is similar in Nova Scotia.

The average cost of an insulin pump in Canada is $7,000 with a monthly cost of about $250.

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Hanson said patients who are unable to access quality diabetes management care and the assistive devices suffer complications, like kidney disease, blindness, and heart issues.

“We know more than 30 per cent of Canadians report not being able to afford the recommended treatments,” she said in an interview Wednesday.

She said the framework is a part of the equation to get equitable access in both provinces. Hanson said it will help them establish a database able to track data in real-time and help implement best practices across the country.

Bill C-237, a private members bill, is before the Senate. The federal government made a promise to create the framework in its 2021 budget.

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Dr. Tom Ransom, an endocrinologist in Nova Scotia, said he’s been down this road before but things have stood in the way of getting policy changes across the finish line.

He said patients in Nova Scotia find themselves choosing between rent and affording diabetes supplies. Investing in diabetes technology early for patients means less cost down the road, Ransom explained.

“There is a lot of people who have to give up their pumps because they can’t afford it,” he said. “What we’re trying to prevent is down the road someone may end up on dialysis, you know, which is 30 to 40,000 dollars a year.”

He said he remains cautiously optimistic about the national framework but said work must continue to remove those additional barriers.

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The health care cost related to diabetes in Canada every year is estimated to be $30 billion, Hanson said. In New Brunswick, she said that number is about $107 million.

“That’s likely a bit of an understatement of the costs,” she said.

Bruce Macfarlane, a spokesperson for the Department of Health in New Brunswick, said the government has no plans to change the age cap on the insulin pump program or funding opportunities for continuous glucose monitors.

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“A review of options for funding insulin pumps for New Brunswickers as well as the effectiveness and efficiency of adding continuous glucose monitoring has been delayed due to COVID-19 pandemic-related work,” he said in an email.

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