Diabetes Price Tag Go Away; I’d Like to Play Instead of Pay

Meet my husband, the coupon king. If he has a coupon for it, he buys it — whether we need it or not. He paws through every discount table and discontinued items bin at every store he goes into. And buys stuff. Again, whether we need it or not. “It was on sale,” he’ll say in defense of his purchases.


More recently, my computer went haywire and couldn’t be totally repaired (I’m still limping along on it), so he ordered me a new computer. Yes, ordered. It was available in the store, but he could save $30 if he ordered it over the Internet. (There was free shipping.) I’m desperate for a computer — which I use for work — and he can’t shell out an extra 30 bucks? I mean, it was nice of him to buy it for me, but still…

He drives me nuts. On the other hand, I tend to buy what I want, coupon or not. I probably drive him nuts, too.

The point is, he got a new blood glucose meter and it stands to reason, given his proclivity for saving money, he price-shopped. With enlightening results.

First, he went to a pharmacy that is part of a national chain. It was having a sale: Buy 100 of that meter’s strips and get 25 strips free. The cost? One hundred eighteen dollars, or 94.4 cents per strip.

Next was the pharmacy department at a national chain grocery store. Same deal — 125 strips — for $91, or 72.8 cents per strip.

Online? Fifty-four dollars for 100 strips, or 54 cents per strip. Shipping and handling fees probably still wouldn’t have brought the price up to the grocery store, much less the pharmacy.

I don’t know if he bought any strips, or if the gasoline he used by driving hither, thither, and yon erased any savings, but it was an interesting exercise. Of course, that was the cash price and I’m certain our insurance company has a lower negotiated price. It costs us $20 plus 20%. But there’s nothing wrong with saving your insurance company a few bucks: It keeps it from raising rates. Too much. Maybe.

The next day also began with the cost of diabetes, with the arrival of a friend who stopped by on her way home from the pharmacy to buy Lantus and NovoLog insulins for her husband.

“We’ve hit the [Medicare] doughnut hole,” she said. “I don’t know what we’re going to do.”

Don’t know about the doughnut hole? In a nutshell, after you (and Medicare) spend X amount of dollars for prescription drugs, you’re responsible for the full cost until you hit another level, at which point Medicare pays part and you pay part.

Anyway, she was somewhat uncertain as to the cost, but knew it was “over two hundred dollars” for one vial of each at two pharmacies she checked.

I called later and found out that Lantus is $102.88 at the pharmacy she uses and NovoLog is $109.08.

“You might want to talk to your doctor about switching him to ReliOn,” I told her. ReliOn, which is Wal-Mart’s brand, is made by Novo Nordisk. The cost is just shy of $25 per bottle. It isn’t the latest and greatest, but we lived on it for years until today’s more physiological insulins were released. In fact, I use Regular once in awhile, such as when I run short before I can reorder, or if I’m in an area that doesn’t have my pharmacy. It’s inexpensive (relatively, anyway) and doesn’t need a prescription.

Start with just those two things and then add all of the other diabetes-related costs in your life. Substitute oral and other injectable diabetes medicines for insulin: They’re expensive, too. For the newer drugs, that is. Overall, according to the American Diabetes Association (ADA), we pay 2.3 times more in medical costs than people who don’t have diabetes. In my congressional district alone, people with diabetes spent an estimated $233,300,000 in direct medical costs in 2007. (If you’re nosy about your district or state, the ADA has a nifty little calculator. Click here and have some fun.)

Since I’m getting way too close to Medicare age, it’s about time I started clipping coupons or looking on the discounted tables and discontinued bins myself. I did treat myself to a sale recently. A friend is taking her grandson on a Disney cruise and didn’t want to go alone, so I volunteered. It’s the least I could do.

Besides, it was on sale.

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  • H.E.Sullivan

    It scares me that such generalized comments are put out to uninformed people.
    To MANY people with insulin-dependent diabetes, changing insulins can make a HUGE difference. Regular is NOT the same as Novolog/Humalog, and some bodies cannot just interchange with companies. Unfortunately, COST alone can make a bad difference in what patients can use.
    Lantus/glargine and levemir/determir are long-acting insulins, but not the same. Different people can react differently to insulins. The longer one has diabetes, whether or not the A1c is consistently less than 7%, nerve ending damage does occur. That means that people may need to change insulins for better coverage.
    In reviewing COST of so many things, cheap is not always economical nor effective. There is much more to consider than cost.
    I, too, am reaching for the medicare age, and cost will make an unfortunate difference to me. It is time for ALL Americans to focus on rising health care costs by changing laws to the benefit of all people so that GOOD choices can be made by patients and their informed providers.
    When it comes to the cost of test strips, that is a monstrous business! Isn’t it time for “someone” to invent a method that is NON-invasive for checking glucose levels? I don’t have the ability, but if a pulse oximeter can be placed on a finger (or forehead…), then surely there is a way to measure glucose without poking holes in the body. The initial cost of such a gizmo might be exorbitant, but that should rapidly come down to an affordable level and still allow the starter business to profit. Like glucometers…And ACCURACY should be the NUMBER ONE item on that agenda.
    Thank you.

  • Naomi

    My employer changed us to a high deductible this year and I try to also find bargains. I use Walmart’s ReliOn Insulin and I find sources for my glucose strips by going to FindIt.com. Just place what you are loooking for in their search line and it shows many different places to find things. I can’t use my insurance that way, but I have to pay for it myself anyway, so this saves me a lot of money.

  • Shirley C.

    I have type II diabetes and am also in the donut hole. I have a mail order prescription plan and get my medications for three months at a time. I recently re-ordered Byetta and was shocked at the price. It was over a $1000. My A1C runs about 6.4 using Byetta alone. Is there a substitute for Byetta that is more cost friendly?

  • Jan

    H.E., did you see the part where I suggested that my friend talk to the doctor about switching insulins? I would not suggest that anyone make a swwitch like that on his own. However, I don’t see a problem with making somebody aware of what else is available.

    Jan Chait

  • Jack

    ReliOn also has a blood glucose meter. 50 strips are just $20 and it is no-coding and just 0.3 microliters of blood. Sounds like that beats all of the prices in the post above.

  • Max

    I myself do not understand why the test strips are so costly. Why can’t the developers come up with a universal test strip for use in any machine? Testing is so vital to good diabetes management that you would think there could be a better solution. I also would like to see a non-invasive method of regular glucose testing. I have only been testing for a week, and already my fingertips feel bruised and sensitive! And I am absolutely dreading having to go buy new test strips. I am seriously considering getting the ReliOn Meter because their test strips are much more manageable. $1.00 per strip (or more) is insane! I have no insurance, pay for all of it OOP.

  • MHall

    Have you tried testing on your palm or base of thumb? The arm or leg are not recommended but the base of the thumb is considered to be as reliable as the fingertip. We have nerve endings on our fingertips. That’s why it is painful to test there. Try using the side of the finger tip, not the center, where we have more nerve endings. Put your hands together “as if to pray”. Wherever your fingertips do not touch-that is where you should test. The ReliOn will not be useable for base of thumb testing but most other meters will. Try the sides of fingertips and see if that doesn’t help. I have type 1 diabetes and test an average of 7 times a day. I use a meter that needs very little blood (0.3 microliters-Freestyle Light), I use the base of the thumbs, and I use a lancet that is a very small gauge (32G). All those factors make a difference. It is not painful for me to test my blood sugar.