On May 2, the Kenney government announced it would avail diabetic Albertans of newer, more technologically advanced insulin pumps. Then 10 days later it announced it was “pausing” this decision to allow for more consultation.
The decision and its reversal happened so quickly it was like a snippet of time-lapse photography; it allowed us to see the Kenney government’s machinations as it tried to push diabetic Albertans out of the free Insulin Pump Therapy Program (IPTP) run by Alberta Health Services in order to save $9 million/year (that’s less than one-third the annual cost of the War Room).
The life and death of an ill-conceived policy decision*
May 2: The whiz-bang announcement
Health Minister Copping announced that diabetic Albertans would have access to newer, more technologically advanced insulin pumps through their government-sponsored health benefit plans. Yippee!
Then the fine print:
The IPTP which provides diabetic Albertans with free insulin pumps and other supplies would be cancelled on August 1. Albertans needing insulin pumps/supplies will have to go through employer-sponsored or private plans, or “transfer” to Alberta Blue Cross. Depending on the plan, they’ll pay extra premiums and/or co-payments. But there’s a bright side, low-income Albertan will continue to receive pumps at no cost from…well…somewhere.
May 3 onwards: The public outcry
Diabetic Albertans, their families and friends, and the NDP Opposition pointed out that many companies’ health benefit plans don’t cover insulin pumps. (NOTE: Companies typically renegotiate their health benefit plans in the fall. Plan changes go into effect on Jan 1 the following year. That leaves a 4-month gap in coverage).
Alberta Blue Cross is an insurance plan. Albertans who used to receive free insulin pumps/supplies would now be required to pay premiums, deductions and copays. If they miss too many premiums their insurance would be cancelled. (Note: the Blue Cross website says coverage starts on the first of the month four months after the application is made unless exceptions are made so, someone who applied for coverage on May 3 may have to wait Sept 1 for coverage).
The premiums, deductions, and copays are not trivial. One Albertan said the elimination of IPTP would cost her around $400 in co-pays each quarter, plus an additional $1,500 to $2,250 to replace her insulin pump when the time comes.
The Opposition demands an explanation and an apology:
NDP health critic Dave Shepherd challenged Kenney to show his work to assure Albertans his expectation that they’d be just fine was well founded and to admit his mistake and apologize.
The cocky refusal
Kenney spouted a string of meaningless statistics—eg. Alberta Blue Cross nongroup coverage is only $63/month (this is an additional $756/year for Albertans who are getting their insulin pumps for free)—and assured the Opposition that the government had done consultation (he didn’t say with whom).
Later, Education Minister LaGrange said the government had been consulting and communicating with diabetic Albertans for years and numerous Albertans wrote in to ask for more options and more equity in benefits with non-pump users (whatever the heck that means).
Enter Diabetes Canada
Diabetes Canada was quoted in Copping’s press release as supporting the government’s efforts. Eight days later it published an open letter to the government retracting its support. It had been flooded by calls and emails from concerned Albertans and now opposed the government’s plan to “impose cost-saving measures on the backs of those currently enrolled in the IPTP.”
May 12, 2022: The face-saving retreat
Health Minister Copping announced the government was pausing its decision to cancel the IPTP so it could reach out to the 4000 people in the program to ensure no one was left behind. He would also set up town hall meetings for further consultation. Apparently, the only consultation the government undertook was with a clinical advisory committee.
He also apologised for the confusion.
Seems to me the only ones who were confused were Kenney and LaGrange who didn’t know how many consultation meetings had taken place and Copping who told the Legislature that the cost of the IPTP was $50 million when the press release pegged it at $20 million.
What just happened here?
So as we observed the life and death of the new insulin pump technology plan, we’ve learned that the Kenney government:
- Will attack diabetic Albertans to eliminate a piece of Alberta’s public health care system and save itself a measly $9 million/year.
- Will say its decision is founded on years of public consultation when this isn’t true.
- Will pretend a free public health program is essentially the same as one that requires Albertans to pay premiums, deductions and copays.
- Will draft a press release so confusing that those who support it publicly retract their support.
We also learned that a small group of Albertans can stop the government for dismantling our public healthcare system.
This is an invaluable lesson.
*Alberta Hansard, May 5, 2022 starting at p 1192, May 9, 2022 starting at p 1204, May 12, 2022 starting at p 1390