How the Costs of Type 2 Diabetes Add Up


Study: A quarter of diabetics cut back on food or heat to afford their meds.(ISTOCKPHOTO)

Even with health insurance, a type 2 diabetes diagnosis can cost a chunk of change. All the medications, test strips, and other supplies needed to control and monitor blood glucose can get pricey—in some cases costing hundreds of dollars a month.

Blood glucose test strips alone can cost about a dollar each. If you're testing several times a day every day, the costs can add up pretty quickly. Overall, more than $1 in every $10 spent on health care in the United States goes toward treating diabetes, and Americans with chronic disorders (including diabetes) spend up to five times more a year on health care than those who don't.

People with type 2 diabetes often underuse their medications because of out-of-pocket costs, according to a study published in the journal Diabetes Care.

Of the participants, 28% said they cut back on food, heat, or other basic needs so that they would have enough money to pay for their prescriptions; 14% accrued more credit card debt; and 10% borrowed money from family or friends to pay for their prescriptions.

Co-pays can add up
Within a couple of months of being diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, Lisa Corbeil, 47, of Philadelphia, landed in the hospital with asthma. To help her breathe, Corbeil was given the steroid prednisone, a drug that causes blood sugar to spike, which the medical team counteracted by pumping her full of insulin. Upon discharge her doctor prescribed two types of insulin, more pills, and two inhalers.

"When I came home from the hospital, I had to go to the drugstore first and ask them what it was going to cost me, to decide whether or not I could buy food," she says. "And I thought, if I didn't have any insurance at all, my only choice would be to die."
Medicare: One Patient's Story

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All told, she anteed up roughly $1,900 in co-payments for prescription medication for the year—enough to take a trip to Europe, Corbeil says. (Since having gastric bypass surgery, Corbeil no longer needs insulin or oral diabetes medications.)

Taking a new job or switching insurance carriers can also affect coverage. Lisa Moore, 25, of Austin, had been on her father's policy until she got her master's degree. Now she has a new job, and her insurance policy there doesn't cover visits to her endocrinologist, a woman she likes and trusts.

"It's hard for me to want to change," she says. So for the time being, Moore intends to pay for her doctor visits out of pocket.

Easing the financial sting of diabetes
There are things you can do to ease the financial sting. The American Diabetes Association (ADA) offers these money-saving tips.

  • Call around. Prices vary widely among different medications and from one store to the next.
  • Try generics. There are generic versions of Glucophage (metformin) and some of the sulfonylureas are available in generic form as well.
  • Split pills. Ask your doctor to prescribe the largest tablets of the drug you need and cut them in halves or quarters using a pill splitter to get the appropriate dosage. A 500-mg tablet, for example, often costs less than two 250-mg tablets. One note of caution: Some extended-release formulas will not work properly if split. Check with your doctor or pharmacist before you try splitting pills.