August 2022 Update: Please note this article was originally posted in June of 2021 before the FreeStyle Libre 2 was picked up by provincial public coverage. Click here for cost info specific to the FreeStyle Libre 2.
The FreeStyle Libre system from Abbott was first approved for use by Health Canada in 2017. While a newer version of the device, the FreeStyle Libre 2 was released to the Canadian market earlier this year, the original Libre remains the more widely accessible option in terms of insurance coverage at this time.
If you are still trying to decide if the FreeStyle Libre system is the right choice for you, read on for the most common questions I come across when clients are considering the Libre:
Is the FreeStyle Libre covered by insurance in Canada?
In Ontario, the FreeStyle Libre system is covered by Ontario Drug Benefits (ODB) for people managing diabetes with insulin. Ontario Drug Benefits is available for individuals who are:
Age 24 or younger
Age 65 or older
Enrolled in the Trillium Drug Program
Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP)
Ontario Works (OW)
Live in a long term care home
Receive home care services
Outside of Ontario, the FreeStyle Libre flash glucose monitoring system also has some public coverage in Quebec and Yukon, though eligibility criteria are more limited.
The FreeStyle Libre system is also covered by many private insurance providers. Check with your insurance provider to see if you are eligible.
When asking your physician for a Libre prescription, make sure they also provide a prescription for the compatible test strips (FreeStyle Precision Blood Glucose Test Strips). You want to make sure you are able to finger prick for confirmation when needed!
A note about lancing devices (finger pokers):
Just a heads up - the FreeStyle Libre reader does not come with a lancing device or case, keep your old lancing device!
How much does the FreeStyle Libre cost?
If paying out of pocket, the FreeStyle Libre reader retails for $50 to $70 and each sensor (which lasts 14 days) costs $90 to $120. Similar to other test strips, The FreeStyle Precision Blood Glucose Test Strips cost a little under $1 per test strip - they are individually packaged and retail for $70 to $90 per box of 100.
Can I shower with a FreeStyle Libre sensor on?
YES, you can wear the Libre sensor while bathing, showering, or swimming. The user manual does say to avoid keeping the sensor underwater for more than 30 minutes.
Word of warning though, I have come across clients who enjoy soaking in a hot bath and they find that if the sensor is submerged for too long in the warm bath water, the adhesive can loosen and cause the sensor to fall off.
Does applying a FreeStyle Libre sensor hurt?
For the most part, sensor application is well tolerated. In a study of 67 patients aged 13 to 19 years old, 96% strongly agreed that sensor application caused less pain than finger-pricks.
Having tried the FreeStyle Libre myself in the past, I find the sensor applicator has been designed in a way that you hardly notice the actual sensation of sensor insertion - you feel the pressure from the applicator surrounding the sensor pushing on the skin versus actual pain from sensor insertion itself. The “click” sound of the applicator is sometimes what startles new users more (don’t worry, it’s not that loud).
When helping new users with the application of their first sensor, I’ve definitely seen on more than one occasion clients say “that’s it?” after I inform them that their new sensor is fully inserted and ready to go. However, I now avoid saying sensor insertion does not hurt at all as there are the occasional times when clients do report sensor insertion hurt (my guess is a nerve was nicked during insertion) and people vary in pain tolerance.
How often do I need to scan the FreeStyle Libre?
To get the most out of your sensor, you want to scan a minimum of 3 times per day - once when you wake up, once at bedtime, and once in the afternoon. Because each Libre scan captures and records the previous 8 hours of data, scanning 3 times per day about 8 hours apart allows you to capture what blood sugar is doing across the whole day.
If you find you tend to forget about scanning - there is the option to set up reminder alarms on your FreeStyle Libre reader or LibreLink mobile app.
When do I need to scan more often?
If you take mealtime insulin, it is good practice to do a scan before taking insulin (as in, do a scan before each meal)
If you are curious about the impact of different foods on blood sugar - try scanning before eating and again two hours after
If you are feeling unwell
If you are more active than usual
If you have been drinking alcohol
Got questions about the FreeStyle Libre I didn't answer? Comment your question down below!
Al Hayek AA, Robert AA, Al Dawish MA. Acceptability of the FreeStyle Libre Flash Glucose Monitoring System: The Experience of Young Patients With Type 1 Diabetes. Clin Med Insights Endocrinol Diabetes. 2020;13:1179551420910122.
Coverage of Advanced Glucose Monitoring Devices. Diabetes Canada. https://diabetes.ca/DiabetesCanadaWebsite/media/Advocacy-and-Policy/Advocacy%20Reports/Advanced_Glucose_Monitoring_EN_OCT-2020.pdf. Updated October 2020. Accessed May 31, 2021.
Flash Glucose Monitoring. Abbott. https://freestylediabetes.co.uk/freestyle-libre/flash-glucose-monitoring-temp#:~:text=The%20average%20lag%20time%20between,readings%20may%20be%20very%20similar. Accessed May 31, 2021.
Flash Glucose Monitoring. Diabetes Canada. https://www.diabetes.ca/DiabetesCanadaWebsite/media/Managing-My-Diabetes/Tools%20and%20Resources/Flash_Glucose_Monitoring.pdf. Updated January 2020. Accessed May 31, 2021.
FreeStyle Libre Flash Glucose Monitoring System User’s Manual. Abbott. https://freestyleserver.com/Payloads/IFU/2017_dec/ART34745-107_rev-A-WEB.pdf. Published Dec 2017. Accessed May 31, 2021.
FreeStyle Libre FAQ’s. Abbott. https://www.freestylelibre.com.au/faq. Accessed May 31, 2021.
The FreeStyle Libre System. Abbott. https://www.freestyle.abbott/ca-en/home/freestyle-libre.html. Accessed May 31, 2021.
Summary Basis of Decision - Freestyle Libre Flash Glucose Monitoring System. Health Canada. https://hpr-rps.hres.ca/reg-content/summary-basis-decision-medical-device-detailThree.php?linkID=SBD00477. Updated Nov 13, 2020.