Recently the British Columbia government announced that they would be restricting the number of test strips that they covered for people with diabetes. Those using insulin would only receive 3000 test strips per 365 days. Those who did not use insulin would be given significantly less.
BC is not the first province to do this. The table below shows that there are very few provinces offering strip coverage that truly matches the needs of individuals with diabetes.
What do coverage limits on test strips mean?
Are we simply too greedy? Do we want our provincial governments to cover too much? Are we checking too often? 3000 test strips is a little over 8 glucose checks per day. Shouldn’t that be enough?
My son ideally checks his blood before each meal, two hours after every bolus, before and after exercise, before bed, and at least once during the night. He has used up his eight test strips before he has done his regular work out or rechecked after a low. He does not have any strips to spare if there is a strip error. He also doesn’t have anything extra for sick days when we know that a person will go through a ridiculous amount of strips thanks to highs, ketones, and vomiting.
Are people wasting test strips?
I read somewhere that the idea behind these restrictions was to help make people think a bit more before they check their blood sugar. We don’t want them to just be checking willy-nilly and wasting strips. That made no sense to me.
Why does someone want to lance their finger for the fun of it? Yes, some people without diabetes like to do this to make sure that their blood glucose levels are in check but why would a person with diabetes whose fingertips already are a mess of black dots and scars want to poke themselves just for giggles? They won’t!
My son is 17. He checks when he has to and absolutely no more. He checks when he feels that his blood glucose is on a fast rise or fall. He checks when he knows that something is off in his body and it needs his immediate attention. It is never something done for fun. It is done to keep him alive, healthy and productive.
Why should taxpayers cover test strips?
Why is it such a big deal for people to have their test strips covered? Why should taxpayers care about covering the cost of test strips for people with diabetes who do not have private insurance? Because the cost of not helping them is far too high.
If people with diabetes are not checking their blood glucose levels, they are not able to note consistent highs or even lows that will silently damage their bodies. They will not feel as healthy and they will begin to miss more days of work. Over time they will develop complications that will completely take them out of the workforce and put a huge drain on the health care system.
4500 test strips per year, for example, would equate to checking your blood glucose levels just over 12 times per day. That would be an extra $1050-1500 per year for those individuals who max out their test strip limit. Compare that amount to $263,000 per year that governments pay for hemodialysis which can result from poor diabetes control. Sadly, too many provincial governments do not see the long term benefits. They see the possible $1500 per person per year that they are saving and stop there. They are not concerned with the drain on the health care system in 5 or 10 years down the road. They won’t be in office then and it will be someone else’s problem.
This thinking needs to change. It is not just about the health concerns that they are creating for tomorrow by failing to properly care for people living with diabetes today. It is also about the money that they are losing from these individuals today. People living with diabetes can lead very full and productive lives. They are doctors, lawyers, plumbers, and mechanics. There is very little that they cannot do when they are able to avail of the tools that help them to regulate their blood glucose levels properly.
When these individuals do not have the proper tools they miss time from work or may even have to remove themselves from the labour market. They require the assistance of more government services rather than helping to pay for them. Keep people living with diabetes healthy is to the benefit of everyone in society. The reward in quality of life, longevity, and productivity far outweighs the cost of a few thousand dollars each year.
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