Bigger picture: Insulin pump access crucial for quality diabetes care, says Calgary dad

Keith Simmons urges province to look at the bigger health picture over $20 million in savings

Keith Simmons showed off the needles, tools, and insulin required to manage his son's diabetes, alongside an insulin pump which replaces all of those items, at his home in Calgary on Wednesday, May 4, 2022. ARYN TOOMBS / FOR LIVEWIRE CALGARY

Insulin pumps are a much bigger conversation than $20 million in savings, said a Calgary dad who helps care for a son with Type-1 Diabetes.

On May 2, Alberta began the end of the Insulin Pump Therapy program, which provides insulin pumps and correlative supplies free of charge to patients.

Insulin pump benefits will be transferred to a government-sponsored health program Aug. 1. The province said those folks getting insulin benefits today will have to get coverage through a government-sponsored health plan or employer/private health plan.

Low-income Albertans will still get the benefits at no charge, the province said.

The province estimates 4,000 Albertans get the benefits, and the program cost has jumped from $9.5 million in 2015 to more than $20 million in 2020-2021. The province estimates that 386,000 Albertans are living with diabetes.

Under the new program, more advanced pumps will be made available.

“Alberta’s government recognizes that Albertans living with diabetes want access to the most innovative equipment available,” said Alberta Health Minister, Jason Copping.

“Having access to the most recent technology will better support them and help them to more effectively manage their condition.”

Calgary dad Keith Simmons, whose 13-year son Marshall was first diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes nearly six years ago, said this is a quality-of-life issue.

Right now, they use a personal diabetes manager (PDM). It communicates directly with the pump to inject Marshall with insulin. It does the calculation for insulin based on the type of carbs ingested and activities done throughout the day. The pump delivers a basal rate of insulin to ensure there’s always some in the bloodstream.

“It does a whole lot of calculation for us basically,” he said.  

Without the insulin pump

Keith Simmons showed off the needles, tools, and insulin required to manage his son's diabetes, alongside an insulin pump that replaces all of those items, at his home in Calgary on Wednesday, May 4, 2022. ARYN TOOMBS / FOR LIVEWIRE CALGARY

On the kitchen table of his southeast Calgary home, Simmons laid out the supplies that would be needed if the pump wasn’t available.

“Everything on the right-hand side of the table is what typically goes on when you don't have a pump,” he said.

He said basal insulin is put in twice daily by needle. To adjust sugars throughout the day based on meals and activity, another eight to 10 needles might be needed. It could be more if your kids are active.

“It's 24/7, 365 (days),” Simmons said.

Simmons has the basal rates “spit-balled properly” so he doesn’t have to get his son up at night to adjust his levels.

“If he's on the pens, I would have to get up,” Simmons said.

“And if I didn't have this EGM (Electronic Glucose Monitor), which scans electronically as well, give him a poke in the middle of the night to get his blood to figure out what he needs, inject him, and then I can go back to bed.”

The province’s three-part plan provides expanded coverage for diabetes test strips and other supplies. In February, they added access to glucose monitors.

Simmons, who gets the pump free of charge under the current program, said it would cost families around $300 per month if not covered by private or government insurance. That doesn’t include the potential cost of other supplies.

The cost could end up being bigger, Simmons said

Without the use of an insulin pump, some Albertans may have to go back to the daily calculations. It also mean regular needle insulin injections.

Simmons said people can inject too little insulin or too much. Both have significant potential health impacts.

Poor diabetes management leads to longer-term health issues, Simmons said. It can impact the kidneys, the eyes, the liver and the extremities, including fingers and toes.

This leads to potential limb amputations, dialysis, loss of sight and general hospital care, he said.

“They need all of those other (health) facilities to take care of them,” Simmons said.

“That's going to burden the system later on with people who are incapacitated. That doesn’t even begin to talk about the quality of life.”

He said families like his will be poking kids 12 times a day. Others will be administering their own, trying to ensure the calculations are correct. Meanwhile, they'll be worrying about kidney function, liver function, losing limbs or eyesight, Simmons said.

“It's a much, much bigger conversation than we're going to be able to save 20 million bucks. Right?"

About Darren Krause 1225 Articles
Journalist, husband, father, golfer, writer, painter, video gamer, gardener, amateur botanist, dreamer, realist... never in that order.

1 Comment

  1. As a family of the insulin pump program in Grande Prairie Alberta My son is the insulin dependent 13 year old. We are going to have to pay 20% of the overall cost through our workplace insurance. Or we’re going to have to have two insurances. I’m not sure how the co-pay will work. This was put out so fast was such a little information.
    Diabetic educators, pump trainers, endocrinologist were not consulted. Now if I buy a pump through private workplace insurance and pay my portion who will train me?
    This might mean that more Albertans can get pumps faster and not have to wait through the three year long AHS waitlist. But it will mean that less Albertans will have training from an endocrinologist on how to operate a life-sustaining therapy. We already know that insulin therapy can be deadly if not administered correctly. The pump is an amazing safety feature but it’s only a tool and if the tool is not used properly it will cause issues. I know for fact that the hospital here in Grande Prairie Is not equipped to deal with type one diabetic emergency. They don’t understand there has been lots of mistakes including a little boy who died.

    I’m concerned of the privatization of pump funding in Alberta will reduce do use the access that Albertans have to endocrinology
    Because of where we live we didn’t have access to a pediatrician or endocrinology until Nine months after my son was started on insulin. Alberta health services was not there for us I petitioned the ministry of health I wrote letters I begged I begged at doctor‘s offices, I begged at the ER I begged at the pediatric ward I begged and begged for help to help my son and you learn how to use insulin. Eventually I stopped I went to Facebook and YouTube. Poison control and a very helpful prison doctors website. Finally nine months later the healthcare system was ready to assist.

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