Man with severe sleep apnea warns of treatment challenges in Manitoba

One Manitoba man is warning others about the challenges to access testing and treatment for sleep disorders in the province, saying he is one the hook for his test and the machine needed to treat his severe sleep apnea.

Jeff Melnick said he can once again remember his dreams now that he uses a machine to treat his sleep apnea, a disorder his wife first suspected he had.

“It was waking her up, so I decided, ‘hey, go and see your doctor,'” Melnick told CTV News.

He decided to do a sleep test privately in December. He says a doctor with the same company that did the test analyzed his results. Melnick’s diagnosis was severe, so he bought the $1,600 a-pap device out-of-pocket, thinking the province or his benefits would help out.

“The only reason why I paid it is because I just assumed one or the other would pay part of this bill,” he said. “That is where I am frustrated.”

In Manitoba, sleep apnea machine coverage changed five years ago. In order to be eligible for a $500 co-pay, the prescription needs to come from the provincial clinic at Misericordia Health Centre.

Melnick said he didn’t go to the clinic because it had a 12- to 15-month-long wait list.

“No one is more aware of the long wait list times for sleep investigations in this province than we are,” said Dr. Eleni Giannouli, the medical director of the Sleep Disorder Centre.

Giannouli said there are about 6,600 Manitobans on the wait list – about 900 to 1,000 more than the wait list was pre-pandemic.

Two sleep specialists overseeing the Sleep Disorder Centre say privatization leads to more unnecessary testing, delays and duplications.

They say the best model is a centralized intake where patients are prioritized case by case, which is what Manitoba has.

“We’re very proud of it. It’s based on evidence-based medicine and care, we are very efficient,” said Respirologist and Sleep Specialist Dr. Nancy Porhownik, the co-section head of respirology at the University of Manitoba.

“We know how to triage and care for patients but what we are needed is the resources to be able to do that job for Manitobans.”

Porhownik said a proposal was given to the Diagnostic Wait Time Task Force, but instead a private partnership was struck.

A provincial spokesperson tells CTV News a proposal from Misericordia is under review. As for sleep apnea coverage they said in a statement, “Patients who access sleep disorder care either through the Sleep Disorder Centre at Misericordia or through a provincially contracted care provider will access CPAP machines under exactly the same terms and conditions.”

Melnick said the company he used does not have a provincial contract. He’s now warning others about the full costs of private care before choosing it.

“If you want to get the test done, don’t delay it, but be very careful about buying the machine,” he said. 

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