4 Ways to Cut the Cost of Diabetes Care

If you're one of the approximately 21 million people in the U.S. who's been diagnosed with diabetes, you're probably well aware of how expensive the disease can be: Medical costs for patients run to about $13,700 a year, of which close to $8,000 is caused by the condition. One of the reasons diabetes is so expensive is the cost of insulin. This hormone, which diabetes patients either don't manufacture (type 1) or don't use efficiently (type 2) is not available in generic form. That's because pharmaceutical companies have been able to continually make small improvements to their insulin medications, allowing them to maintain their patents, according to researchers at Johns Hopkins Medicine.

As a result, people with insulin-dependent diabetes who do not have drug coverage on their health plans must pay up to $400 a month out-of-pocket for insulin. Some people simply can't afford the cost.

Unfortunately, "Not having access to insulin can have tragic results," says Kevin Riggs, MD, MPH, physician and researcher at Johns Hopkins Medicine in Baltimore. "Short-term, people can end up in the emergency room or admitted to the hospital, but worse are the long-term consequences of poorly controlled diabetes, such as vision loss, kidney failure, heart attack, stroke, and early death."

For anyone with type 1 diabetes, and some people with type 2, there is no alternative to insulin, Riggs points out. But fortunately, for many people with type 2 diabetes, who make up the majority of diabetes patients, there are effective and less expensive ways to cope. To keep your diabetes under control without emptying your pockets, try the following:

1. Improve Your Health

Some people may get started on insulin before itís clear they actually need it, Riggs adds, and they may do better in the long run by considering lifestyle changes or oral medications. Eating healthier meals, getting more exercise, and losing weight can help prevent or at least delay the need for insulin, as can other medications. And some diabetes drugs, including metformin (which not only treats diabetes but may also help prevent heart disease and other complications), come in generic form.

2. Buy Online

You can save money on diabetes supplies, including insulin, by filling prescriptions and shopping online. Be aware, however, that there are illegitimate and illegal pharmacies operating online. You can use LegitScript.com or Pharmacychecker.com to check the credentials and legitimacy of online companies that sell diabetes supplies or fill prescriptions. Itís also a good idea to check with your doctorís office to see if they can recommend any online pharmacies.

3. Seek Assistance

If your health insurance does not include prescription drug coverage, contact Together Rx Access or Partnership for Prescription Assistance to see if you are eligible for prescription savings through one of their programs. If you donít have insurance, you may also be able to get information on free or low-cost health clinics near you.

4. Collect Free Samples

Physicians and other health care providers get free samples from drug manufacturers and medical supply companies. Whenever you have an appointment with your doctor or diabetes educator, find out if they have any samples you can use. Another way you might get samples is to contact the companies that make your supplies and simply ask for some. You can also attend diabetes fairs and expos, where manufacturers and health care professionals supply free health screenings, educational materials, cooking demonstrations, and product samples. To find out if there are any upcoming expos in your area, check the American Diabetes Association site at diabetes.org.

Kevin Riggs, MD, MPH reviewed this article.


Riggs, Kevin MD. Email to author May 15, 2016.

"Why People with Diabetes Canít Buy Generic Insulin." Johns Hopkins Medicine. March 18, 2015. Accessed May 3, 2016.

"National Diabetes Statistics Report, 2014." Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Updated May 15, 2015.

American Diabetes Association. "Economic Costs of Diabetes in the U.S. 2012." Diabetes Care 2013. 36;(4):1033-1046. doi: 10.2337/dc12-2625.