Crucial blood tests for celiac disease could help shrink the gap to diagnosis and improve care

The Canadian Celiac Association (CCA) hopes that an Ontario Ministry of Health pilot program which includes providing funding for crucial blood tests for celiac disease will be made permanent, to ensure ongoing screening of the 1 in 117 Ontarians at risk for the autoimmune disorder.

The pilot announced last November has been officially extended until March 31, 2023 and allows Ontario residents to be screened for celiac disease among other tests at an approved community-based laboratory, at no cost to the patient.

Ontario has the unfortunate distinction of being the only province in Canada that does not cover these vital tests through the provincial health insurance plan. We are hoping that the Ministry of Health will see the tremendous value in offering the funded tests at community labs, not only by shrinking the gap to diagnosis but reducing up to 10 years of health decline which people with celiac disease can endure. That could improve the quality of life for the estimated 100,000 Ontarians at risk for the disease and could generate potential savings for the health care system of as much as $125 million over the same period.”

Melissa Secord, National Executive Director, Canadian Celiac Association.

Celiac disease – a genetic autoimmune disorder where gluten, a protein found in wheat, rye, and barley, causes an inflammatory response damaging the intestinal lining – frequently goes undiagnosed. The cost of the tests span from $65 to $150 depending on what is ordered, which is a deterrent for many Ontarians on low or fixed incomes. Celiac disease is genetic, so the potential cost to a family of four to get screened is over $400. The tTg IgA and IgA blood tests are recognized internationally as the first step to clinical diagnosis.

“If we can get permanent OHIP coverage, the tests will be added to the regular laboratory requisition form used by family doctors. Right now, the tests are not listed because historically they are paid for by the patient. Celiac blood tests are often missed by health practitioners when selecting blood work to screen for health problems,” Secord said.

“Prior to the pilot, the only way to have the tests covered was to be hospitalized. Given the current pressure on the health care system from COVID-19, this is not an appropriate use of hospital services and resources, nor good care for patients. In addition, health care dollars were being wasted on needless trips to multiple practitioners, emergency rooms, and on expensive inappropriate tests such as ultrasounds, x-rays and other blood work.”

Delays in diagnosis of celiac disease can lead to malnutrition, osteoporosis, neurological problems, reproductive issues, arthritis, other autoimmune diseases, and even cancer.

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