Millions of Americans with diabetes have cheered as drugmakers slashed the price of insulin, the life-saving drug that treats the chronic disease.
But the lower prices, which came amid government pressure to contain insulin costs and more competition from generics and biosimilars, are only part of the cost of treating the disease, which causes high blood sugar that can damage the heart, eyes and kidneys, if they are not treated.
Over-the-counter medical supplies to monitor glucose levels and administer medications can make up the largest portion of a patient’s costs. A 2020 JAMA Internal Medicine report found that children and adults with private health insurance spent more out-of-pocket on diabetes-related supplies than on insulin.
“We are happy that insulin prices are limited and people are more aware, but that only tells part of the story story of people living with diabetes,” said Dr. Karla Robinson, medical editor at GoodRx, a platform that helps people find the lowest prescription prices near them.
The cost of supplies “affects people much more than … insulin. It can affect what treatment they choose because supplies can be very expensive.”
Lower insulin prices:Limiting insulin costs
How many people are affected by delivery costs?
Of the 37 million Americans who have diabetes, about 8 million use insulin, but all need to monitor their sugar levels. Add to that another 100 million pre-diabetic adults who may need testing supplies.
There are two types of diabetes:
- Type 1which is completely insulin dependent.
- Type 2who may or may not need insulin because you can take oral medication or make lifestyle and dietary changes to control it.
“One thing both have in common is that they all have to monitor their sugar in some way,” Robinson said. “A lot of people are affected who never need insulin, so this is a big problem.”
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How much can supplies cost?
A person with diabetes who uses insulin typically spends $4,882 a year on treatment if they have insurance. Of that, $3,992 is spent on supplies, according to a GoodRx analysis, or more than 80% of the annual cost of managing the disease
Lower costs:Drugmaker Novo Nordisk to cut some insulin prices by 75%
Lifestyle changes:People with diabetes lived longer on a lower-carbohydrate, plant-based diet, the study found
What kinds of supplies do people with diabetes need?
It can vary depending on the type of diabetes you have, but here are some common things:
- Blood sugar meter (glucometer): A small handheld device that uses a tiny drop of blood from a finger and provides glucose results in seconds.
- Continuous Glucose Monitor (CGM): A portable glucose monitor with a sensor that sits under the skin and measures glucose 24 hours a day.
- Insulin pump: An automated insulin delivery (AID), often used in conjunction with a CGM, that responds to glucose changes.
- Acupuncture equipment and lancets: Used to prick fingers to check sugar levels.
- Blood Glucose Test Strips: Used in a glucose meter.
- Syringes and alcohol pads: Used to inject insulin.
- Insulin pens: A portable and convenient alternative to vials and syringes for delivering insulin.
- Adhesive skin patches; Used with CGMs.
- Infusion set: A connection between the insulin pump delivery device and your body.
Budgeting:More than 1.3 million Americans ration life-saving insulin because of cost. It is ‘very worrying’ for doctors.
Diabetes and weight loss:Diabetes medication helps patients lose never-before-seen amounts of weight, study shows
How can people reduce the cost of diabetes supplies?
You can ask your doctor for tests or suggestions, but here are different types of help you can use:
- BenefitsCheckUp.org: Seniors with limited income can search by zip code for help with medications, health care and other needs through this service from the National Council on Aging.
- NeedyMeds.org: A national organization that connects people with programs that help pay for medicine and supplies. You can search by medicine or the manufacturer’s name.
- Partnership for Prescription Assistance: Helps people without insurance coverage for prescriptions find their medications and supplies for free or at low cost.
- Patient Advocate Foundation: A nonprofit organization with a state-by-state listing of organizations that specifically help patients defray the costs of diabetes care. Select “diabetes” as your diagnosis on the website to search for help. The foundation also has a copay assistance program for those in financial need who have insurance. Low-income diabetes patients can access subsidies up to $1,500 per year for medical costs.
- Federally Qualified Health Centers: Health centers may offer free or low-cost diabetes supplies.
- Rx Outreach: A nonprofit, mail-order pharmacy that provides affordable medications to people in need through its website or by phone at 1-888-RX0-1234 (1-888-796-1234).
- RxAssist.org: A list of drug company assistance programs, state programs, discount drug cards, copay assistance and more.
- Patient Assistance Programs: Companies often offer free or low-cost diabetes supplies, depending on your insurance status and income. If you need help with your pump supplies or CGM, contact the manufacturer directly via their customer service number:
- Medtronic: 1-800-646-4633
- Tandem: 1-877-801-6901, option 3
- Island: 1-800-591-3455
- Dexcom at 1-888-738-3646
- Abbott Diabetes Care: 1-855-632-8658
Available resources are “helpful to know, but I’m hoping on a larger scale that we can get some regulatory relief that’s more substantial,” Robinson said. “People are rationing supplies and reusing disposable supplies, which compromises safety. Just as we’ve finally gotten some relief for insulin, I’m hoping for some relief for supplies.”
Medora Lee is USA TODAY’s money, markets and personal finance reporter. You can reach her at email@example.com and subscribe to our free Daily Money newsletter for personal finance tips and business news every Monday through Friday morning.