Diabetes advocacy group desires price protection for glucose monitoring units

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WINNIPEG – A diabetes advocacy group in Manitoba is calling on the provincial government to provide reimbursement for an item that it says can improve the quality of life for a diabetic.

Emergency Diabetes Support for Manitobans wants to cover the cost of continuous glucose monitors as it leads to improved health outcomes and fewer hospital stays.

The devices are used as a substitute for fingerprints to monitor blood sugar levels in a user’s body. The results are instantly available, provide detailed information and warn users of changes in blood sugar. They also offer third party surveillance, which is helpful for people living alone and for parents of children with diabetes.

“I don’t have to get up in the middle of the night and prick my son’s finger a few times to make sure I know where his blood sugar is,” said Ken MacDonald, who uses one of the CGMs on his son. “That can really prevent a short-term emergency that can be very unpredictable.”

Colin Mehmel has paid for one of the devices out of pocket for the past year and a half. He said it was painless and the continuous data collected by the monitor was much better than the snapshots of fingerprints.

“You can always make better decisions based on the information you get from any of that pieces of information compared to the kind of scatter plot you can put together in your brain using test strips,” said Mehmel.

The group is concerned that requests from Manitoba Health for device coverage are being ignored.

The group argues that the technology is not new and has been around for about 15 years. Other jurisdictions have included the devices in their health plans, and the Saskatchewan Party announced its intention to make them available to children and teenagers in October last year.

The devices are not cheap and cost thousands of dollars per person per year. The group says these costs are similar to what the province is currently paying for current blood sugar tests. They said if you factor in a possible reduction in emergency room visits, the cost savings could be higher.

“I am actually spending less now than the province previously spent on me,” said Mehmel. “And I take care of this device a lot better now than I did when I used fingerprints.”

The group hopes these CGMs will be fully covered by the province.

On Tuesday, a Manitoba Health spokesperson told CTV News that it recognizes the challenges diabetics face and “the importance of having access to innovative therapies.”

“We continuously monitor the incremental clinical value of any new drug or medical device and balance it with the cost impact it can add to the system to ensure the sustainability of the public drug plan,” the spokesman said in a statement.

Currently, pediatric insulin pumps are covered by the Manitoba Pediatric Insulin Pump program. Insulin, syringes, test strips and insulin pumps are currently covered under the Income-Based Pharamcare program in Manitoba.