Type 1 diabetics say something is missing from Manitoba’s new program to cover insulin pumps for young adults

Type 1 diabetics in Manitoba are upset that the province’s new insulin pump program for young adults doesn’t include one of the most popular, easy-to-use devices in its coverage.

On July 29, the province released a list of supplies covered by the Young Adult Insulin Pump Program, which reimburses Type 1 diabetics aged 18 to 25 for the cost of their medical device.

Advocates like Trevor Kirczenow, whose 11-year-old son is diabetic, were disappointed that the popular Omnipod tubeless pump is not on the list.

Insulin pumps provide a continuous flow of insulin based on blood sugar levels. Without coverage, the out-of-pocket cost is in the thousands. 

“People are upset, frustrated, worried. They’re hoping that this is just some horrible mistake, that that will be corrected really quickly,” Kirczenow said.

Kirczenow is one of the founding members of the Emergency Diabetes Support for Manitobans group.

At a recent insulin pump education class he attended, nine out of 10 families chose to go with the Omnipod pump, which is covered by the province for anyone under the age of 18.

“There’s a 16-year-old in our group who just started on the Omnipod last year … he’s approaching that 18-year mark and he’s wondering what’s going to happen to him.”

For Type 1 diabetics who are active and for children, insulin pumps like the one pictured above with tubing, can be a pain. (Shutterstock / AJ Laing)

Omnipod is the only tubeless pump on the market, Kirczenow says. It sticks to the body with a self-adhesive backing and administers the insulin through a cannula.

The devices that are covered by the province attach via a port on a person’s body, and the insulin is dispensed through tubing. Users often carry the pump around in a backpack or clip it to their waistband.

“For people who are active and for children, that tubing can really be a pain,” Kirczenow explains.

The tubing can detach easily during activity, and re-attaching it means inserting a needle again. Pumps with tubing also run the risk of disconnecting and cutting off the insulin supply without the user noticing.

Without insurance or provincial coverage, an Omnipod pump costs around $6,300 out-of-pocket. 

A provincial spokesperson told CBC News they are negotiating with the company that makes the pump, and it may be added to the list of approved devices in the future.

Kirczenow says this response doesn’t make sense, because the province already covers the Omnipod for users up to the age of 18.

Age cutoff prompts human rights complaint

For Brian MacKenzie, not covering the cost of the Omnipod pump is only one part of the problem. The 75-year-old Type 1 diabetic says that only offering coverage for Manitobans up to the age of 25 is “almost criminal.”

So when the provincial government initially revealed its plans to offer the young adult insulin pump coverage, he filed a human rights complaint citing age discrimination.

“The government has said, ‘Well, hey, anybody up to 25 should have [insulin pumps].’ I mean, what makes people over 25 any different?” he said.

MacKenzie gives himself insulin injections five times a day.  But at his age and stage of the degenerative disease, he doesn’t think an insulin pump would make a big difference in his life.

“I didn’t do it for me,” he said of the human rights complaint. “I did it for the people that are 25 and over, who don’t have insurance, who don’t have benefits at work.”

It’s something Kirczenow has thought about, too: What will happen to his son when he ages out of coverage?

“If every decade we [only] improve coverage by, like, a seven-year gap, it’s just not good enough,” he said.

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