Get help with the high cost of managing diabetes

The disease can take a toll on your wallet, not just your health

Published: November 2009

Diabetes can be a financial burden as well as a medical one. A year's worth of routine care—including medication, glucose test strips, syringes, and other supplies, plus regular visits to a doctor—can run about $6,000 a year. And that doesn't include costs associated with any serious diabetes complications.

But trying to save money by scaling back on tests or treatments may undermine your efforts to control your diabetes, our survey suggests. More than half of the people who were unsuccessful in managing their condition said they had put off seeing a doctor, skipped filling a prescription, or resorted to another cost-cutting measure. (For details, see Don't cut back.)

It's clear that cutting corners can be bad for your health, but there are ways to get the most for your health-care dollars.

Check your health plan

Many insurance companies now offer disease management programs for people with type 2 diabetes or other chronic diseases. The programs "provide a real opportunity for people with diabetes to gain better control of their condition," says Jaan Sidorov, M.D., a former medical director of the Geisinger Health Plan in Pennsylvania who is now an independent health-care consultant.

Unfortunately, some research suggests that less than 20 percent of the patients who could take advantage of these programs actually do. That's partly because insurers often don't do a great job of spreading the word, and partly because many consumers are skeptical of insurers. "By now, patients certainly have reason to be suspicious of insurance companies' efforts to rein in costs," Sidorov says. "But this is a case where your interests and those of the insurance company could go hand in hand."

For example, one way for insurers to keep diabetes costs down could be to reduce the number of serious—and expensive—complications of diabetes, such as heart attacks and amputations, which you want to avoid, too. "So if your insurer contacts you about their diabetes-management program, keep an open mind," Sidorov says. "And if they don't, take a proactive approach and see what they offer."

One of the best parts of many of these programs is round-the-clock access to a registered nurse, who can serve as your health-care coach. "Advice nurses" can typically give you general tips on managing your diabetes, and many will have access to your medical records, so they can provide personalized recommendations. In addition, programs may offer classes (either in person or online), access to informational brochures and Web sites, and even text-messaging alerts and reminders. But remember to confirm the advice you get from these providers with your primary-care doctor, especially if it seems to contradict anything you previously heard. And ask the nurse to keep in touch with your primary doctor so that you don't get lost in the shuffle.

To find out what your insurance plan offers, start with the benefits manager in your employer's human resources department, who may have a good understanding of the insurance options. Or contact the insurer by phone or by going to its Web site. The company may have a link to its disease-management program on its home page. Or type "disease management" in the search box. Some insurance plans, especially those offered by large employers, now offer incentives to members who sign up for disease management, such as low co-payments or none at all, or reduced costs on diabetes-related drugs and supplies.

If your insurer doesn't offer a program like this, consider switching plans, if possible, during your employer's next open-enrollment period. See our Ratings of health insurance plans and our advice on how to get the best health insurance for you.

People who have enrolled in Medicare Advantage may also be eligible for a disease-management program. See our advice on signing up for Medicare Advantage.

Some doctors may also offer programs directly through their offices. Be wary, however, if a plan is offered through a drug company, because the company may try to get you to buy its medications, which may not be the best, or least expensive, option for you.

For more information. Medicare Diabetes lists the care typically covered by standard Medicare.

Shop wisely

See our Ratings for blood-glucose meters. The Ratings include the cost of test strips, too.

Choose one of our Best Buy Drugs for diabetes. Our analysis has found that they work at least as well as other medications for most people, are just as safe, and are often much cheaper. And consider our other Best Buy Drugs for high blood pressure and elevated cholesterol levels.

Shop at the pharmacies where you can save the most, according to our Ratings.

Talk with your doctor about diabetes costs. Many don't consider them—unless you ask.

Don't cut back

The table below shows the percentage of people in our survey who said they had put off seeing a doctor, skipped filling a prescription, or resorted to another diabetes cost-cutting measure.

Cost-cutting measure Successful respondents (percentage) Unsuccessful respondents (percentage)
Put off a doctors visit 11% 33%
Skipped filling a prescription 6 26
Postponed paying other bills 8 20
Put off a medical procedure 8 21
Took less medication than recommended 6 24
Declined a medical test 7 18
Editor's Note:

Source: Consumer Reports National Research Center

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