Insulin can be expensive. If you’re one of the 6 million Americans with diabetes relying on this main-stay treatment, you could be paying out-of-pocket costs anywhere from $120 to $400 per month, according to a 2015 New England Journal of Medicine commentary. Drugs such as Lantus (insulin glargine) and Levemir (insulin detemir) have seen significant cost increases, according to a recent trend report by pharmacy benefit manager Express Scripts. 

One reason for the high prices is the lack of generic options for insulin. So for now, you’re stuck having to search around to find affordable options. 

For some people though, high drug costs can mean making difficult financial choices. Our national polls show people might cut back on groceries and paying bills to pay for their medications. To minimize your costs, consider these options:

Prescription Assistance Programs

If you don’t have health insurance or are without drug coverage, look into applying for a patient assistance program (PAP). Through the nonprofit NeedyMeds, you can find some programs that offer free or low-cost insulin as long as you meet the eligibility requirements. Those are usually based on your insurance status, income, and diagnosis.

You might also qualify for a diagnosis-specific program that can help you save on syringes, pumps, and other diabetes supplies. Pharmacists are also a great resource and can help you find a PAP that meets your financial needs. 

Switch Drugs

Another way to save is by asking your doctor whether there’s a lower-priced insulin that’s right for you. While “long-acting” is a more popular type of insulin, it's also more expensive, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it works better. “It’s mostly a marketing ploy,” says Marvin M. Lipman, M.D., Consumer Reports’ chief medical adviser and board-certified endocrinologist.

The only advantage of long-acting insulin, says Lipman, is that it has to be injected only once a day, whereas older intermediate-acting formulations, such as Humulin N and Novolin N, have to be administered twice a day. “There is no good evidence that one approach is better than the other, except for the convenience of one shot versus two.”

One estimate we found on GoodRx shows that the price for 5 FlexTouch pens of 3mL of long-acting Levemir is $417, while the price of a 10mL vial of the intermediate-acting drug Novolin N is $130. 

Shop Around

As is the case with most other medications, prices can vary depending on where you fill your prescription. Our shoppers have frequently found that getting a lower price requires some shopping around. Try Walmart, where you can get Novolin N for just $25, says Jeremy A. Greene, M.D., Ph.D., associate professor of medicine and the history of medicine at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and co-author of the NEJM commentary. “Walmart has the cheapest insulin in the country. They use their distribution muscle to demand a much lower price.” 

Check with Walgreens, too; we found Novolin N priced as low as $64 there. And Costco is worth a try as well, especially if you're a member. Costco pharmacies in New York and New Jersey told us it would cost $130 for Novolin N. You can fill prescriptions at Costco without being a member, but membership can bring the out-of-pocket price down to just under $100. 

Another word of advice: "You may find that you have to educate your doctor on what you’re paying for insulin out-of-pocket," says Greene, since your doctor won't automatically know that cost is an issue for you. 

Editor's Note: These materials were made possible by a grant from the state Attorney General Consumer and Prescriber Education Grant Program, which is funded by a multistate settlement of consumer fraud claims regarding the marketing of the prescription drug Neurontin (gabapentin).