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Diabetes can be expensive—treating the disease will cost our health-care system nearly $30 billion this year.

If you live with diabetes, you can often face high costs for supplies such as glucose testing strips, glucose monitors, medications, and syringes. Provincial and federal coverage is often limited, and those who have private insurance coverage often face high deductibles.

To learn more about this issue, Diabetes Dialogue spoke with Kimberley Hanson, executive director of federal affairs for Diabetes Canada, and Grace Leeder, team lead for the information and support centre at Diabetes Canada, which receives calls and emails from people all across the country.

How does diabetes affect Canadians financially?

Hanson: We know that the vast majority of Canadians with diabetes struggle with what are considered ‘catastrophic costs’—spending more than three per cent of their income to treat their diabetes. A lot of medications and supplies people require are not covered unless the individual has an extended medical plan.

Leeder: For most folks in Canada, diabetes supplies are covered through provincial insurance. But due to insufficient coverage, many people still have to pay high out-of-pocket costs. It’s estimated that people will pay anywhere from between $1,000 up to $5,000 per year out of pocket, depending on how they manage their diabetes.

How do gaps in financial support affect Canadians living with diabetes?

Hanson: According to a Statistics Canada report from 2014, a quarter of people with diabetes report that they are unable to follow their prescribed treatment because they can’t afford it. That puts their short- and long-term health at risk, which means they may be more likely to go to the hospital emergency room or to develop complications.

Leeder: We certainly hear from people who are not checking their blood sugar as often as their doctor recommends. They might not be taking their medication as often, either. Not being able to properly manage diabetes can lead to complications, such as heart disease, stroke, kidney failure, blindness, and non-traumatic amputation. These complications also have a huge cost on our health-care system.

How does Diabetes Canada advocate for this issue?

Hanson: We believe good coverage—meaning access to public or private insurance that covers most of the cost of treating diabetes—should be available to every Canadian, not only for their medications, but also for their devices and supplies. We do a lot of advocacy at the provincial and federal level to encourage governments to provide better coverage, by calling attention to the gaps in coverage. We do research into the impact of those gaps, and what it would cost to close them. And then we work with governments and with advocates all over the country, such as volunteers, people who live with diabetes, and their family members, to push governments to increase their coverage. Better access to care is a key reason we’re calling for Canada to implement our national strategy to address diabetes, Diabetes 360˚.

Where can people turn for help?

Leeder: You can call us at 1-800-BANTING (226-8464) or email us at Our team can walk you through everything that you’re eligible for, and tell you what programs are out there. We also suggest calling your MPP, who may be aware of smaller, local programs offering financial support.

Did you know?

As a person living with diabetes, you may qualify for disability benefits. To find out more, read Financial Assistance for People with Diabetes and check out the downloadable Diabetes Resource Manual.

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(This article appeared in Diabetes Dialogue, Summer 2019)

Author: Laura Tennant

Category Tags: Advocacy & Policy;

Region: National

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