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Financial Coverage of Insulin Pumps In Alberta

Highlights of the Alberta Government Pump Program

As of June 1, 2013, under the Alberta Government’s Insulin Pump Therapy (IPT) Program, the full cost of insulin pumps and basic supplies are covered for Albertans who meet eligibility and clinical criteria.

Summary of Eligibility Criteria:

  • diagnosed with type 1 diabetes (those with type 2 diabetes do not seem to qualify at this time)
  • under the care of doctor/nurse
  • resident of Alberta, eligible for Alberta Health Care coverage

Summary of Eligibility Criteria:

  • A minimum of four blood glucose checks per day (before meals and at bedtime)
  • Regular attendance at diabetes appointments
  • Adequate blood glucose control is required for continued participation in the program (A1C of 9.0% or less; 9.5% or less for 6 years of age and under) – for details talk to your child’s diabetes health care provider.
  • Carbohydrate counting skills
  • Adjusts insulin to prevent hypoglycemia and hyperglycemia
  • For patients under the age of 18 and adult patients with legal guardian(s):
    • Parent/legal guardian provides ongoing support for the patient’s diabetes management.
      (This would be tough for kids to do on their own!)
    • Parent/legal guardian knows they are responsible for a pump management plan while in the care of other individuals, schools or treatment centres.
      (Agreed. We can’t just drop our kids off at school, for example, and expect school staff to know what to do – we need to provide training and support, so our kids have a safety net while they are out of our care.)
  • Once approved for coverage, your child’s participation in the program can be discontinued if clinical criteria are no longer met, at the discretion of the doctor/nurse practitioner.
  • Some clinics also include discontinuation criteria such as:
    • more than 1 hospitalization for DKA in the last year
    • infusion sites are not being rotated and/or are not being changed every 2-3 days
    • boluses are not being given for food intake
    • not setting basal rates to meet your child’s insulin needs
    • ketones are not being checked during illness or for unexplained high blood glucose readings
    • insufficient number or spacing of A1C tests

Tips from the Trenches

Basically, the government and clinicians want to make sure that pump users have the skills required for safe and successful use of the pump. Makes sense to me. This does, however, mean that the funder (the government) looks to health care professionals to determine whether clinical criteria are being met in an individual case, and, therefore, whether funding will be provided/continued. In most cases, this will not likely be a problem – if my child and I (as a team) check blood glucose frequently enough, count carbs, make necessary insulin adjustments, and visit our diabetes clinic regularly (see provincial funding criteria), then we are doing what we need to do to be safe and succeed on a pump, and so would likely have the support of the diabetes health care provider. If we did not have this support, however, and disagreed with that decision, I would first discuss this with my child’s doctor/nurse to understand their perspective. Then, if I still disagreed with their assessment of the situation, or felt the “red light” was related more to a resistance to pumping than to an assessment of our family’s readiness, I would seek a second opinion. ~Michelle

Summary of Coverage:

The IPT Program covers the complete costs of a pump and basic supplies that are essential to pump use (less any amounts covered through government-sponsored agencies and patients’ employer-sponsored or  private insurance programs), as follows:

  • Insulin pumps
  • Infusion Sets
  • Insulin Cartridges / Reservoirs
  • Serters
  • IPT skin preparation (dressings and/or skin adhesives and/or adhesive removers)
  • Blood glucose test strips
  • Blood ketone meters and test-strips
  • Lancets
  • Syringes or pen tip needles

Interesting to note that although “essential to pump use”, insulin is not covered (perhaps because it is “medication” rather than “supplies”).

Things to note about coverage:

  • Five is the magic number: once approved, coverage is provided for five years.

If you already have a pump before enrollment in the program, the cost of the pump will not be covered retroactively, but supplies will be covered from the date of enrollment and for five years following. Further, the program will not cover the cost of a new pump until the current pump is five years old (although you should begin the application process well in advance of this).
It’s interesting to note that most pump companies provide a 4-year warranty, and yet a new pump is only covered under the government program every five years. Theoretically, if your pump still works for a year after the warranty period is up, all is good, no reason to worry. But this is a big “if”. We have not received any satisfactory answers at this point about what happens after the warranty expires, except that the government website says that if your pump breaks down you should first contact the pump company; if the company “refuses to provide a replacement insulin pump or repair a defective insulin pump” (which I would expect if the pump was no longer under warranty) then there is a process to request coverage for a new replacement pump. Additionally, this process seems only to apply to New IPT Users (not to those who purchased their pump before enrollment in the IPT Program).

  • You don’t pay out-of-pocket for covered supplies/pumps – they are direct-billed to the IPT Program from a pharmacy or pump company. In fact, there is no reimbursement if you pay for the supplies yourself. Following from this, there is no retroactive reimbursement for pumps and supplies bought before an individual is enrolled in the IPT Program.
The Process:

The application process differs for “New IPT Users” (a patient who is not currently using an insulin pump) versus “Existing IPT Users” (patient who already uses an insulin pump) – see the Alberta Health website:

Process for New Patients Interested in Insulin Pump Therapy
Important information for existing insulin pump patients

Go Back to the Source:

We have provided a summary and commentary here for your convenience, however, we are not the final authority on this program. According to Insulin Pump Therapy Program – Eligibility Criteria on the ministry of Alberta Health website, “the Insulin Pump Therapy (IPT) Program is delivered by Alberta Health Services (AHS), with claims administration by Alberta Blue Cross (ABC) and administrative support from Alberta Health.”

As such, complete information on the Insulin Pump Therapy (IPT) Program can be accessed at both of the following websites:

  • Alberta Health Services (the provincial health authority responsible for planning and delivering health supports and services)
  • Alberta Health (the provincial government ministry responsible for health policy and standards) – explore the links under “Resources for patients” towards the bottom of the main text box.
If you need additional information, you could contact one of the 11 clinics approved by AHS to deliver the IPT Program or contact Health Link Alberta: dial 811 within Alberta (or 1-866-408-5465).

The above information was reviewed for content accuracy by clinical staff of the Alberta Children’s Hospital Diabetes Clinic.

This material has been developed from sources that we believe are accurate, however, as the field of medicine (in particular as it applies to diabetes) is rapidly evolving, the information should not be relied upon, as it is designed for informational purposes only. It should not be used in place of medical advice, instruction and/or treatment. If you have specific questions, please consult your doctor or appropriate health care professional.

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