Many amputees who lose a limb to medical conditions, like cancer or diabetes, can’t afford the prosthetic they need to function. When they go to be fitted for a prosthetic limb, many are shocked to learn how much of the cost will come out of pocket
Having his right leg amputated was a last resort for 31-year old Aaron Gautreau.
“I just wanted to know what a day would be like with not screaming in pain.” A childhood cancer left him without a thigh muscle. After 2 decades of unbearable pain, he had an above the knee amputation.
A series of diabetes related complications led Gail Griffin to the same difficult decision.
There are similarities between their stories but the strongest common thread is something neither expected.
“People have no idea what you lose when a leg comes off and you can’t afford a decent one.” said Griffin.
They’re each facing an expensive bill for the devices they need and will receive little help from the government.
The estimate for Gail’s prosthetic leg is $27,000. the province’s “Assistive Devices program” will cover less than a quarter of that, just over $6,000. Her private insurance company will kick in $12,000, but she’s still on the hook for thousands of dollars her family doesn’t have.
Aaron is even worse off because of his cancer, he needs a special electronic device called a microprocessor knee. Neither the government, nor Aaron’s private insurance company covers this type of knee. His new prosthetic leg is expected to cost almost $90,000. OHIP will pay for less than 10% of that.
Health minister, Dr. Eric Hoskins, says the province covers three quarters of the cost of prosthetics for amputees.
“We pay 75% of the cost of a prosthetic for example, and the amount that we pay is also based on a review of what the appropriate cost for that piece of equipment should be.”
However, for each part of the prosthetic, the government has set a maximum dollar amount. Karen Valley, Director of the War Amps National Amputee Centre, says those figures more often than not fall short of 75% of the cost. “By setting that limit, you’re reducing their ability to be functional which will compromise their overall health.”
Both Aaron and Gail are fundraising to make up the difference. “I just want to have a normal life like everybody else. I’m not going to climb a rock wall or do whatever but I do want a decent leg.” said Griffin.
They hope by sharing their stories, the government realizes the current system is broken.