Diabetes and COVID-19: Stocking Up on Medicine and Supplies

Medically Reviewed by Michael Dansinger, MD on August 12, 2022

Social distancing and stay-in-place rules may make it harder to get the diabetes meds and supplies you need. Here's how you can stay on top of things.

Be Ready

Planning ahead can make it easier to stock up safely. Here’s how:

Call your doctor. Make sure your prescriptions are up-to-date, with the maximum number of refills allowed.  This includes insulin and oral meds as well as supplies like syringes, pens, and insulin pumps.

Aim for a 90-day supply. You should have at least 30 days’ worth of medication and supplies on hand at all times. Some experts recommend that you have enough for 90 days. Medicare and many insurers have waived the 30-day limit on prescriptions during the coronavirus pandemic. States have also relaxed rules for early refills for insulin. And for the time being, you don’t need an in-person visit to get refills for blood glucose supplies. Talk to your pharmacist or check your state health department’s social media accounts for updates on these policies.

Have meds and supplies delivered. Mail-order prescription services deliver meds to your door. You usually get a 90-day supply. Keep in mind that you may pay more for these meds when you add this service to your prescription plan. Check with local pharmacies, too. Many now offer free or low-cost home delivery.

What Else to Have on Hand

Don’t forget to stock up on:

  • Healthy food, especially fresh fruit, veggies, and “good” carbs, like oatmeal, legumes, and unsweetened yogurt
  • Simple sugars like honey, hard candy, or fruit juice in case your blood sugar dips
  • Rubbing alcohol and hand soap
  • Glucagon and ketone strips
  • A 2-week supply of things like paper towels, laundry soap, and diapers

Paying for Your Meds and Supplies

If you've lost your job and insurance during the pandemic, you do have options:

Join a family member’s health plan. Find out if you can get on your spouse or partner’s insurance plan. You normally have 30 days to apply, but during the pandemic, you may get more time.

Explore COBRA. If you lost the health insurance you had with your job, you can sign up for benefits through the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA). This allows you to keep your old health plan for up to 18 months. You’ll have to pay the full cost of the premiums yourself.

See if you qualify for Medicaid. About 50% of people who lost their job due to COVID-19 can get Medicaid, the insurance program for people with lower incomes. Learn more at

Check the health insurance Marketplace. This is a service set up under the Affordable Care Act. It helps people shop for and buy their own insurance. Check to see if your state has a special COVID-19 enrollment period. Marketplace plans can be pricey, but if you've lost your job, you probably qualify for subsidies that can lower your cost.

If You Can’t Afford Insulin

No one should ration or go without insulin. Here’s what to do:

Get help from insulin makers. Some of the major insulin makers have COVID-19 options. Some cap co-pays. Others offer a free 90-day supply of insulin to people who meet certain criteria. For more details, ask your pharmacist or check the company websites.

Buy OTC insulin. There are a few insulin options available over-the-counter. This is human insulin and it acts differently in the body than newer, analog insulins. Be sure to talk to your doctor before you buy it so you know how and when to use it.

Look for discounts on diabetes devices. Some makers of glucose monitors and insulin pumps offer pandemic discounts to their customers. Check their websites for more information.

Show Sources

SOURCES: “Getting Insulin During Covid-19.”

National Council on Aging: “Ensuring Access to Essential Medications During the COVID-19 Pandemic.” “Our Response to Covid-19.”

Consumer Reports: “Deadline Nears for Those Who Lost Health Insurance During the Pandemic.” “How to buy health insurance during the COVID-19 crisis.”

American Diabetes Association: “Planning for Coronavirus.” “Amid COVID-19 Crisis, Lilly Introduces $35 Co-Pay for Insulin.” “COVID-19 Novo Nordisk Information and Resources.” “Our Response to Covid-19.” (American Diabetes Association): “Help with Insulin Is a Phone Call Away.”

JAMA Internal Medicine: “Frequency of Sale and Reasons for Purchase of Over-the-Counter Insulin in the United States.”

University of Maryland Health Partners: "Over-The-Counter Drug List."

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