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Spotlight on Diabetes

Group Benefits

Posted by Anil Persaud

Nov 12, 2021 12:21:00 PM

Woman with diabetes talking to her doctor

Diabetes drugs account for close to 10% of prescription drug spend, and continued to top the list of ‘traditional’ drugs in 2020. While healthy lifestyle habits—including exercise, a healthy diet, and maintaining a healthy weight—are critical to preventing and managing diabetes, simply telling people to move more and eat less isn’t always helpful. In this blog, we discuss three benefits that can help people with diabetes stay on track.


Happy Birthday to Frederick Banting
The development of insulin is considered one of the greatest medical breakthroughs of all time, and I love the fact that Canadians were instrumental in this life-saving achievement. Medical scientist Frederick Banting was awarded the Nobel prize in medicine for its discovery, together with renowned physiologist John Macleod.

Dr. Fredrick Banting was born November 14, 1891, at Alliston, Ontario. World Diabetes Day is November 14 in his honour. There are about two million people in Canada living with diabetes, so there may be many who remember his contribution with gratitude on November 14.

Diabetes is on the rise. So are costs.
Insulin has saved millions of lives over the past century, but it’s not all happy news. Diabetes is increasing—30% by 2030 according to a Diabetes Canada forecast. Deaths from diabetes increased by 70% globally between 2000 and 2019. In 1920, the decade Banting and Best made their big breakthrough, it’s estimated that between 0.5 and 2.0% of people in industrialized countries had diabetes. Current estimates put the prevalence in Canada at 9%—and it’s forecast to rise to 12% by 2025.

Prevalence of diabetes

1920 estimate 2020 2025 forecast
Between 0.5 and 2.0% in industrialized countries 9% in Canada 12% Canada

Behind these figures are considerable implications for individuals and their families—and considerable healthcare and benefit costs. Based on a 2019 study:
● Approximately 1 in 3 Canadians has diabetes or prediabetes
● Less than 50% of the population can identify half of the early warning signs
● Only 33% are aware that stroke is a leading complication tied to diabetes, and
● Only 40% identified heart disease as another leading complication

Drug spend: Diabetes drugs top the list of traditional drugs
Diabetes drugs account for close to 10% of prescription drug spend and continued to top the list of ‘traditional’ drugs in 2020 (as opposed to specialty drugs like biologics). At the same time, flash glucose sensors overtook traditional blood glucose test strips in 2020. These help people better control their numbers.

Express Scripts Canada. “2021 Prescription Drug Trend Report.” 2021

Spend on diabetic drugs increased by 60% and the number of claimants increased by 33% in 2020. There’s work to be done on both prevention and disease management.

Three ways health benefits can help plan members with diabetes
While healthy lifestyle habits—including exercise, a healthy diet, and maintaining a healthy weight—are critical to preventing and managing diabetes, simply telling people to move more and eat less isn’t always helpful. More is needed. Here are three benefits that can help plan members stay on track:

1) Teladoc services provide access to virtual health care when it’s needed
The pandemic made it more challenging to manage our health. Plan members with extended health benefits with Empire Life have access to Teladoc services at no extra cost:
● See a doctor at any time of the day or night
● Understand their health condition
● Get help if their health condition is taking a toll on their mental health
● Find a specialist
● Get an expert’s advice

Whether it is long wait times, lack of convenient appointments, or COVID-19 related barriers, many Canadians are not getting the care they need when they need it. Telemedicine provides group plan members with 24/7 access to licensed physicians in Canada (and the USA) so they can get the care they need when it’s most convenient for them.

2) Drug benefit helps cover the cost of diabetes meds
Much has been written about the fact that almost half of Canadians don’t take their meds as prescribed. This is especially concerning since poorly controlled diabetes has a number of undesirable health consequences.

The drug benefit can play an important role in helping plan members manage their condition. Earlier this year, we made it easier for plan members to cover the cost of sensors by switching sensors from medical supplies to drugs. This behind-the-scenes change means plan members can claim the eligible cost with their benefit card, while they are at the pharmacy. When plan members sign up with our pharmacy benefit manager, Express Scripts Canada, they also have access to convenient home delivery, which saves trips to the pharmacy. One less thing to keep track of!

3) Employee Assistance Program (EAP) offers health coaching as well as short-term counselling
EAP gained in popularity during the pandemic, as plan sponsors looked for cost-effective, simple ways to support their employees. Earlier this year, we added new services to our AssistNow EAP, including health coaching. Designed for those looking to improve one or more areas of their health (e.g. get more exercise, eat better, etc.), health coaching can help define goals, identify and overcome obstacles, create and execute a plan, track progress and celebrate successes.

Happy Birthday to Doctor Banting. It’s my hope that in the not-too-distant future we celebrate his life-saving discovery in conjunction with lower prevalence rates of the disease.

Upcoming webinar:
I’ve signed up for the Novo Nordisk webinar on November 30. Dr. Alex Abitbol and Lianne Clarke will discuss the complexities of managing diabetes, its impact on the workplace, and what this means for plan sponsors. You can register here.
Related materials:
Best Doctors flyer
Telemedicine flyer
Mental Health Navigator
EAP Health coaching flyer


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