12/08/2014 12:09 EST | Updated 02/07/2015 05:59 EST

B.C. government limits coverage of blood glucose test strips for diabetics

VICTORIA - British Columbia will impose yearly limits on test strips used by diabetics to gauge their blood glucose levels, but patients who need more strips can still get them with a prescription.

The Health Ministry said PharmaCare coverage of blood-glucose test strips will be restricted Jan. 1, following a similar change in Ontario in 2013.

The change is based on research showing that people who have Type 2 diabetes and don't use insulin can safely test their blood sugar levels less often, the province said.

In the new year, PharmaCare will cover 200 to 400 strips a year for those patients, and up to 3,000 strips annually for patients on insulin.

The government expects the move will save up to $4 million a year, starting with about $1 million in savings this fiscal year.

Diabetics prick themselves to draw blood and apply it to a test strip. Then they use a monitor to detect their blood glucose levels.

Dr. Jan Hux, chief science officer of the Canadian Diabetes Association, said diabetics may need to check their blood sugar levels less often if they have modified their diet after being diagnosed.

"People who have just been diagnosed and really don't understand how what they eat impacts their sugar, for those individuals testing really is a helpful educational tool," she said from Toronto.

Across Canada, B.C. and Ontario are in the middle of the pack when it comes to provincial coverage for diabetes, while Alberta and New Brunswick are at the bottom, Hux said.

Saskatchewan and Quebec offer full coverage for diabetes management tools, Hux said.

Health Minister Terry Lake said savings from limited test-strip coverage will be used to fund insulin pumps.

In February, B.C. residents who monitored their Type 1 diabetes with an insulin pump began getting coverage for the equipment until they’re 25 — up from age 18.

Health Minister Terry Lake said at the time that PharmaCare would cover up to $6,600 of the cost and that the average price of an insulin pump is about $6,500.