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Saving on the Cost of Diabetes Care

Some of the best cost-cutting strategies are free.
By
WebMD Feature

Carol Phillips has a problem -- a big one, but a common one. She is grappling with the cost of diabetes. At the end of May, her COBRA benefits from a former employer will run out, and she will join the ranks of more than 43 million Americans without health insurance. Because she was recently diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, it will be hard for her to afford a new policy.

"I have called a couple of places and inquired," she tells WebMD. "Either I am non-insurable, or the premiums that are quoted are ridiculous."

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Phillips is too young for Medicare, and as a self-employed consultant in the travel industry, she makes too much annually to qualify for Medicaid. Nevertheless, her out-of-pocket diabetes costs will take a bite out of her income. "It's going to be very scary," she says.

Since her diagnosis in January, she says she has been able to get her blood sugar under control with the diabetes drug Avandamet and major lifestyle modification. "I'm a changed individual in terms of what I do and what I consume," she says. She exercises daily and has already lost 25 pounds.

She says she hopes to reduce her costs by getting off diabetes medication altogether, and managing her blood sugar by diet and exercise alone. For people who are diagnosed early in the course of the disease, that is sometimes possible.

Cost of Diabetes: Strategies for Saving Money

Even if she must stay on medication, Phillips is cutting her cost of diabetes by taking a combination diabetes drug. Many people with type 2 diabetes take more than one medicine. "Two or three is not uncommon," says Paul Jellinger, MD, president of the American College of Endocrinology.

Avandamet, which Phillips takes, combines the drugs metformin and rosiglitazone, which work by decreasing the amount of sugar the liver produces or by making the body more sensitive to insulin.

If someone with insurance were to take the two drugs individually, they would have to pay a co-payment for each one, doubling their cost. Those paying full retail prices out of pocket could benefit even more from a combination drug. For example, at one pharmacy, 60 tablets of Avandamet sell for $62, while 60 tablets each of the brand-name versions of metformin and rosiglitazone together cost $166.

Other examples of combination drugs are Metaglip (glipizide plus metformin) and Glucovance (glyburide plus metformin). "And there are more coming," Jellinger tells WebMD.

Considering generic drugs can cut your cost of diabetes care, sometimes significantly. Retail prices for generics are generally lower. Also, when a generic version of a drug becomes available, sometimes health plans will charge a higher co-pay for the name-brand version or may stop covering it altogether. The diabetes drugs available as generics are:

  • Chlorpropamide (Diabinese)
  • Glipizide (Glucotrol)
  • Glyburide (Diabeta)
  • Metformin (Glucophage).

Is This Normal? Get the Facts Fast!

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If the level is below 70 or you are experiencing symptoms such as shaking, sweating or difficulty thinking, you will need to raise the number immediately. A quick solution is to eat a few pieces of hard candy or 1 tablespoon of sugar or honey. Recheck your numbers again in 15 minutes to see if the number has gone up. If not, repeat the steps above or call your doctor.

People who experience hypoglycemia several times in a week should call their health care provider. It's important to monitor your levels each day so you can make sure your numbers are within the range. If you are pregnant always consult with your health care provider.

Congratulations on taking steps to manage your health.

However, it's important to continue to track your numbers so that you can make lifestyle changes if needed. If you are pregnant always consult with your physician.

Your level is high if this reading was taken before eating. Aim for 70-130 before meals and less than 180 two hours after meals.

Even if your number is high, it's not too late for you to take control of your health and lower your blood sugar.

One of the first steps is to monitor your levels each day. If you are pregnant always consult with your physician.

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