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Managing Diabetes Is Expensive. These Tips Can Help Keep Costs Down

A recent study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine had a striking finding: at least hundreds of people use crowdfunding campaigns to help pay for the cost of treating diabetes.

“By one estimate an insulin dependent patient with insurance spends about $4,800 annually on medications, physicians’ visits, supplies, hospitalizations, and lost wages,” the authors wrote.

Medicare and several insulin manufacturers recently capped the price or copay for insulin at $35 per month, down from what could be hundreds of dollars per month depending on a person’s dose and numbers of times per day they use insulin. And in April, legislation was introduced in Congress to urge all insurers to charge no more than $35 per month for insulin. 

But insulin isn’t the only expense people with diabetes face. Millions of people take diabetes medications other than insulin and those prices have not been capped. 

“There are a lot of supplies involved, especially for monitoring glucose levels,” Kashif Munir, MD, medical director of the University of Maryland Center for Diabetes and Endocrinology, told Verywell. “As health care providers, we’re finally catching on to the fact that health is not just giving people medicine but looking at the whole picture. We have social workers, clinical nurses, and diabetes educators at our center. We have a food pantry stocked with healthy food and can get people a ride to their medical visit.”

Still, Munir concedes financial assistance provided by the University of Maryland may only last a patient a month or two. With that in mind, there are several steps people with diabetes can take to attempt to lower the cost of their care.

Why Diabetes Care Is So Expensive

According to Munir, insurance does not always cover enough testing supplies—which include lancets to draw blood and test strips to check blood sugar levels in the drawn blood (too low and people need to eat something sugary to bring up their levels; too high and they need immediate insulin).

Other expenses can include footwear to help reduce pressure sores. Because some people with diabetes have poor circulatory systems, such sores can lead to infections and amputations. 

“If there is a wound, then patients need special dressings and medications. Other expenses can include the glucose meters (also called glucometers) to read the glucose levels,” said Munir, who is also a professor of medicine at the University of Maryland School of Medicine. “Newer, and more expensive devices can include implanted insulin pumps that deliver insulin automatically at the push of a button—instead of using a syringe and needle and continuous glucose monitors (CGMs) which attach to the stomach and continually monitor glucose levels. CGMs can be as high as $1,000 though the companies that manufacture them have some assistance programs for people without insurance.”

Munir said doctors and their staff may be able to help patients find less expensive medications, or help patients find medication assistance programs from drug manufacturers.

Caroline Sloan, MD, the lead author of the journal article about crowdfunding, as well as an internist and faculty member of the Duke-Margolis Center for Health Policy at the Duke University School of Medicine, told Verywell that there are often policy barriers to physicians being able to reduce their patients’ costs. 

“But there are sometimes things we can do.” Sloan said. “If a patient tells me that the transportation to my clinic is too expensive, I might schedule an occasional telephone or video appointment…if supplies are too expensive, I might refer them to my clinic’s social worker to find out if there are any coupons or patient assistance programs available.” 

Speak With Your Providers About Discounts and Generics

Don’t hesitate to talk with your healthcare team if you have trouble paying for your diabetes medicines and supplies. Patients who take Mounjaro, for example, which costs over $1,000 per month out of pocket, have often been able to find savings coupons that cut down on drug copays. And if your insurance denies coverage, a letter from your doctor on why you need the drug can sometimes result in coverage, Munir said.

Ask if there are generic versions of the medicines you need for managing diabetes, blood pressure, and cholesterol. Even when generic versions of medicines aren’t available, there may be different, less expensive medicines available that can be effective.

Medical staff may also have free samples of supplies and some medicines that can save you a bit of money.

Take Advantage of Organizations Designed to Find You Discounts

These organizations may be able to help people with limited incomes afford diabetes supplies: 

  • Using their zip codes, older adults with limited incomes can search for help with medicines and other needs.
  • Needy Meds provides a list of programs that help pay for medicines and supplies. You can search by medicine or manufacturer. 
  • This website lists drug-company assistance programs, state programs, discount drug cards, copay help, and other assistance options. 
  • The Patient Advocate Foundation: Last year, for the first time, the Patient Advocate Foundation launched a copay program with the American Diabetes Association (ADA).

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