Insulin is not the biggest expense for diabetic patients. What is?

Millions of Americans with diabetes cheered as drugmakers slashed the price of insulin, the lifesaving drug that treats the chronic disease.

But these lower prices, which have come amid government pressure to cap insulin costs and increased competition from generics and biosimilars, are only part of the cost of treating the disease, which causes high blood sugar which can damage the heart, eyes and kidneys if left untreated. .

Over-the-counter medical supplies for monitoring glucose levels and administering medications can account for most of a patient’s costs. A 2020 JAMA Internal Medicine report found that children and adults with private health insurance spent more on diabetes-related supplies than on insulin.

“We are happy that insulin prices are capped and that people are paying more attention to it, but that really only reveals part of the story of people living with diabetes,” said Dr. Karla Robinson, medical writer at GoodRx, a platform that helps people find the lowest prescription prices near them.

The cost of supplies “has a much bigger impact on people than…insulin. It can even affect the treatment they choose, as supplies can be very expensive.

Lowering insulin prices:Insulin cost cap

How many people are affected by supply costs?

Of the 37 million Americans with diabetes, about 8 million use insulin, but all need to monitor their blood sugar. Add to that 100 million pre-diabetic adults who may need testing supplies.

There are two types of diabetes:

  • Type 1who is completely insulin dependent.
  • Type 2who may or may not need insulin, as you can take oral medication or change your lifestyle and diet to control it.

“One thing the two have in common is that they all need to monitor their blood sugar in some way,” Robinson said. “Many people are affected and never need insulin, so it’s a huge 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 amount, $3,992 is spent on supplies, according to an analysis by GoodRx, or more than 80% of annual disease management spending.

Cost reduction :Drugmaker Novo Nordisk to slash insulin price by 75%

Lifestyle changes:People with diabetes lived longer on a low-carb, plant-based diet, study finds

What kinds of supplies do people with diabetes need?

This can vary depending on the type of diabetes you have, but here are some common things:

  • Blood glucose meter (glucose meter): A small, handheld device that uses a tiny drop of blood from a finger and provides blood glucose results in just seconds.
  • Continuous Glucose Monitor (CGM): A wearable blood glucose monitoring device with a sensor that sits under the skin and measures blood sugar around the clock.
  • Insulin pump: An automated insulin delivery device (AID), often used with a CGM, that responds to changes in glucose.
  • Lancing devices and lancets: Used to prick fingers to check sugar levels.
  • Blood glucose test strips: Used in a blood glucose meter.
  • Syringes and alcohol swabs: 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 sets: Connection between the insulin pump delivery device and your body.

Budgeting:More than 1.3 million Americans ration lifesaving insulin because of cost. This is “very worrying” for doctors.

Diabetes and weight loss:Diabetes drug helps patients lose unprecedented weight, study finds

How can people reduce the cost of diabetic supplies?

You can ask your doctor for samples or suggestions, but here are different forms of help you could use:

  • Seniors with limited incomes can search by zip code for help with medications, health care and other needs through this service from the National Council on Aging.
  • A national organization connecting people with programs that help pay for medicines and supplies. You can search by drug or by manufacturer name.
  • Partnership for Prescription Assistance: Helps people who don’t have prescription insurance coverage find their medications and supplies for free or at low cost.
  • Patient Advocate Foundation: A non-profit organization with a directory of organizations by state that specifically help patients with the costs of diabetes care. Choose “diabetes” as your diagnosis on the website to search for help. The foundation also has a copayment relief program for people in financial difficulty who have insurance. Low-income diabetes patients can access grants of up to $1,500 per year for medical expenses.
  • Federally Licensed Health Centers: Community health centers may offer free or discounted diabetes supplies.
  • Rx awareness: A non-profit mail order pharmacy that provides affordable medications to those in need through its website or by phone at 1-888-RX0-1234 (1-888-796-1234).
  • A list of drug company assistance programs, state programs, drug discount cards, co-pay 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 or CGM supplies, contact the manufacturer directly through 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

The resources available are “useful to know, but hopefully on a larger scale we can achieve more comprehensive legislative relief,” Robinson said. “People are rationing supplies and reusing single-use supplies, which compromises safety. Just as we finally got relief for insulin, I’m hoping for relief for supplies.”

Medora Lee is a money, markets and personal finance reporter at USA TODAY. You can reach her at and sign up for our free Daily Money newsletter for personal finance tips and business news Monday through Friday mornings.

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