Alberta government now covering life-changing diabetes monitors for some children

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Government funding life-changing diabetes monitor for young Albertans
The lives of some young Albertans with Type 1 diabetes just got a lot easier. The province is now covering continuous glucose monitors for some people under the age of 18. As Lisa MacGregor reports, this is saving families thousands of dollars and providing a better quality of life. – Feb 7, 2022

The lives of some young Albertans living with Type 1 diabetes just got a lot easier, thanks to funding from the province for continuous glucose monitors (CGM’s) for some people under 18.

The wearable device tracks glucose (sugar) every few minutes, throughout the day and night, and alerts the user of highs and lows via a monitor or smartphone app.

The CGM can also be paired with an insulin pump — called an integrated CGM — and can adjust the user’s levels accordingly.

Before Savannah Seibel had a CGM, she was poking her finger to test her blood sugar about ten times a day and her mother had to help too.

“We had to wake up every few hours to test my blood sugar and make sure that I was safe at night,” Seibel. Now, the monitor does it for her.

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“It connects to my insulin pump right here,” Seibel said, pointing to a device hooked on he waist, “through this site that’s always on my arm,” she added, pointing to a sensor on her limb.

Read more: University of Alberta study shows positive signs to get patients with diabetes off injected insulin

This means she can stop worrying while doing the things she loves, like playing the viola on stage to a live audience.

“When I got the CGM it completely changed my life, it allowed me to participate in the activities that I do with a lot less fear and I always knew that there was this safety net on me,” Seibel said.

“It definitely saves lives. I myself have had a couple close calls in my lifetime, like at night time where I had no idea and my mother had no idea that my blood sugar was extremely low.

“Had I not been wearing my CGM that cut off my insulin supply during that time, it could have been a lot worse than it ended up being.”

The CGM is expensive — typically costing $3,000 to $6,000 a year — and now eligible Albertans younger than 18 years who are insulin dependent get coverage for the diabetes monitor through government-sponsored health benefit plans that could save families thousands annually.

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Even after reading the fine print, Dr. Peter Senior, the director of the Alberta Diabetes Institute, was pleasantly surprised.

“Alberta’s decision is actually quite an informed and smart one and not just the cheap one.”

“For people who need income support or on limited incomes, there are government programs that they would be eligible for which would now cover CGM,” Dr. Senior said.

Read more: 100 years since insulin discovery, Canadian scientists push for new diabetes treatments

Senior said this funding is especially game-changing for low-income families or those who don’t have private health insurance coverage.

But the question moving forward is — what happens when people with diabetes turn 18?

“I’ve had a few adults reaching out to me again, they’re saying, ‘Oh this is great news for kids, I hope this is a prelude to coverage for adults coming through,'” Senior said.

“It may become very clear that there are populations above 18 where this should be covered and one very obvious example is in pregnant women with Type 1 diabetes.”

Looking at the big picture, the CGM technology could sync with insulin pumps, which the province already covers.

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“It’s actually a step forward towards better access to what they call these hybrid closed loop or artificial pancreas systems,” Dr. Senior, said.

Read more: Diabetes DIY: why thousands of people are hacking their insulin pumps

This funding is Phase 2 of the Alberta government’s three-part plan.

The province said it’s estimated that more than 1,500 children will benefit from the expanded coverage and parents will save $4,200 annually for the cost of the continuous glucose monitoring system.

In Phase 1 announced in August 2021, coverage was provided for diabetes test strips and supplies. The third and final phase will be announced in the coming months, Alberta Health said.

About 386,000 Albertans are living with diabetes and that number is expected to increase to more than 550,000 by 2031, according to the province.

Read more: Type 2 diabetes may be preventable, but why isn’t Type 1?

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