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Locals affected by Type 1 diabetes excited by campaign promise

Living with Type 1 diabetes puts added pressure on both the body and the wallet, something more than 138, 000 Albertans know firsthand.

Living with Type 1 diabetes puts added pressure on both the body and the wallet, something more than 138, 000 Albertans know firsthand.

Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease where an individual’s pancreas fails to produce insulin, making it difficult to transform food into energy. These individuals are insulin dependent and rely on shots or an insulin pump to function.

During the recent election campaign, Premier Alison Redford promised in her Progressive Conservative party platform to ensure “cost-free access to insulin pumps that will help [people] better manage their condition and improve their quality of life.”

This was welcome news for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF), which has been trying to get insulin-pump access for Albertans for three years.

“We’re absolutely thrilled that they’re going to cover pumps for our children,” said Barbara Armstrong, regional manager for north central Alberta. “It’s something that other provinces have been doing and we’ve really [wanted] to have for our children.”

Alberta Health and Wellness spokesperson Andy Weiler said the government was unable to comment on the campaign promise, since the new cabinet has yet to be sworn in.

“[Health and Wellness] Minister [Fred] Horne is still the minister, don’t get me wrong, but obviously we’re expecting a new cabinet to be sworn in in the next couple of weeks,” he said. “Whether it’s him or someone else, we still need to have that conversation about how to move this forward.”

Insulin pumps come with a price tag of roughly $7,000. In addition, supplies for the pump cost upwards of $500 per month. Typically, pumps need to be replaced every four to five years.

The insulin pump provides an alternative to insulin injections, which are often required multiple times per day. The pump is hooked up to the individual and regulates insulin, providing more stability in dosages.

“You don’t want to be low and you don’t want to be high. If the pump is used properly and to all its benefits, you’re not going to have that problem,” Armstrong said, adding it gives families more ‘freedom’ to live their lives not constantly worrying about insulin levels.

Dave Risling, JDRF ambassador, understands this sense of freedom. His 12-year-old daughter Miranda was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes four years ago.

“The original diagnosis was very shocking, it was something that came out of nowhere so it changed things drastically for us right from the beginning,” he said.

She was receiving injections for about a year before switching to an insulin pump, which meant receiving fast- and slow-acting insulin several times a day. Since being on the pump, Risling said she has enjoyed the freedom to act like a kid again.

“It’s really given her an opportunity to get some flexibility back into her life,” he said. “She now, I think, feels a lot more normal in terms of what she can do as a kid.”

He said if she attends a birthday party now, she’s able to eat birthday cake with the other kids without it being a major concern.

When switching to the insulin pump, Risling was initially left to pick up the tab as it was not covered by insurance – something he said is quite common. He lobbied his employer’s insurance plan and eventually the cost became partially covered.

This is a financial burden he said should be covered, which is why he fully supports the campaign promise to cover the cost of insulin pumps. He said the plan is long-term thinking by the government that will give diabetics a better treatment protocol. In the long that benefits everyone because it’s the “consequences of diabetes that really cost a lot of money.”

The Canadian Diabetes Association estimates the number of people living with Type 1 diabetes in Alberta will increase dramatically over the next two decades, climbing from 138,000 to 240,000 by 2032.

Come July 1, Alberta Health and Wellness will foot the bill for a maximum of $600 annually per person for supplies for insulin-dependent diabetics, to be funded under Alberta Blue Cross seniors, non-group and palliative care drug plans.

The insulin-pump coverage is expected to begin in 2013, Armstrong said.

According to the Canadian Diabetes Association, the estimated cost to implement a program of this magnitude is $8.6 million, rising to $15.1 million in 2032 resulting from the increased prevalence of Type 1 diabetes.

Most provinces across the country have already adopted some form of funding program for insulin pumps.

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