If you’re struggling to make ends meet, you may feel like you can’t afford your diabetes medications and supplies. Even if you have insurance, you may not be able to afford the co-pays on some meds, and others might not even be covered. If you don’t have insurance at all, you’re likely wondering how to get food on the table for your family before worrying about your own meds.
By now, everyone knows about the increasing cost of medications. Some are increasing more dramatically than others, such as insulin. According to David Domzalski of RuntheMoney.com, “Diabetes is the most expensive disease in the United States.”
But there is hope. It may take a little work on your part, but below are 20 tips on how you can reduce the costs of your diabetes meds and supplies.
Many of us who participated in this year’s Diabetes Blog Week spent a day contemplating and writing about the many costs of diabetes.
I was inspired to write this after reading the article, “40 Financial Experts Share Ways to Save Money on Diabetes Care,” which appeared recently on the website called TheDiabetesCouncil.com. A lot of the financial advice focused on food and diet ideas for saving money, so I wanted to offer a list of cost-saving tips specific to meds and supplies. Please go and read the original Diabetes Council article for even more ways to make living with diabetes more affordable.
Most of the tips below derive from the Diabetes Council article, but some are from my own experience and a few other sources.
Let’s start with your medications. Several of the following tips recommend talking to your pharmacist and your doctor. Other ideas deal with contacting the drug manufacturers or finding your medication online. Finally, there are several organizations focused on helping people find affordable ways to get their medications.
#1 – Ask Your Pharmacist About Cost-Saving Programs
Domzalski suggests asking your pharmacist if they offer a drug assistance program. Many pharmacies do offer or participate in such programs, but they may not be widely advertised.
#2 – Ask Your Pharmacy if They Price Match
Michelle Jones of BetterBudgeting.org says, “Many pharmacies will match lower prices on prescriptions but only if you ask! And, each time you refill your prescription, check to make sure the price matching is still applied. Sometimes they forget and hike the price right back up.”
#3 – Change the Dosage To Qualify for a Discount Plan
Spring Sun of FrugalInSingapore.com suggested asking your doctor to modify your prescription so that it qualifies for whatever discount plan you’ve found. For example, Walmart has a $4 Prescription Plan, but a 850 mg dose of Metformin, which is usually prescribed for three times a day, is not included in that plan. Instead, if your doctor approves, you can take 1000 mg twice a day, so you can get a month’s supply for only $4.
#4 – Change from Combo Pills to Taking the Meds Separately
According to Sun, if you take medications in their separate pill forms, you can save money. The combination pills (like Metformin and Glipizide) are often more expensive than the total cost of the two meds in separate pill form.
#5 – Cut Higher Dosage Pills in Half
Occasionally, it’s cheaper to buy the larger dose and cut it in half, says Sun. Ask your doctor and/or pharmacist if that’s a possibility, and if so, have your doctor revise your prescription.
#6 – Get Generic Versions
Not all drugs have generic versions, but don’t hesitate to ask if a generic exists for whatever medication(s) you’re on. Usually, the brand name is no more effective than the generic, but is usually far more expensive.
Sun also suggests asking if there are alternatives in the same drug class. She says, “There is often wide variability in the drug cost across the same class of drugs.”
#7 – A 90-Day Supply Might Be Cheaper
Some prescription services, especially mail order ones like Express Scripts, arrange for discount pricing from the manufacturers. They can pass along these savings to you, but it may mean getting a 90 day supply to qualify. If this is available for your medication, simply ask your doctor to modify your prescription to match and re-submit it.
#8 – Hospital Pharmacies Often More Affordable
Have you ever thought about going to the pharmacy in your local hospital to fill your prescriptions? Sarah Molenda of IHeartFrugal.com recommends checking them out, since they will often be more affordable than your local CVS or Walgreens.
#9 – Ask For Free Samples From Your Doctor
Doctors are often given free samples of medications and supplies by the manufacturers and drug company representatives. Ask if they have any samples on hand of “things like needle tips, lancets, and other supplies,” advises Andrew Shrage of moneycrashers.com.
#10 – Look for Online Drug Coupons
Many medications have their own webpage and many of those offer coupons on their site. Molenda recommends checking all of your medications for websites and online coupons.
#11 – Drug Manufacturers Might Send You Free Samples, Too
Apparently, you can request free samples by contacting manufacturers directly, as well, according to Jennifer Schreiner of inspiringsavings.com.
#12 – Check Out Local Health Centers & County Health Departments
Shrage suggested a local health center can offer savings on medications, supplies, and even medical services, if you’re finding it difficult to afford regular doctor visits.
I remember when I was first prescribed insulin and realized just how much it cost. Someone suggested I inquire at the county health department and I was delighted to discover I could get a one month supply of insulin and needles for about $20.
#13 – Investigate Prescription Assistance Programs
Shrage also says, “There are plenty of programs out there for help with prescription costs. Check out the Partnership for Prescription Assistance and the Together Rx Access websites for more information.”
You can also reach out for help in finding affordable medications by contacting the American Diabetes Association page on Prescription Assistance and RxOutreach.org.
According to Kara Stevens of TheFrugalFeminista.com, “The Foundation for Health Coverage Education helps people without insurance to locate public and private assistance programs. Their website has a simple checklist to determine eligibility.”
Integrated Diabetes Services recently reported that Express Scripts has created a “direct discount prescription program called Inside Rx.” Through this collaborative program with GoodRx, they will be able to knock 16-80% off the cost of some insulins and other diabetes medications.
Blink Health is a free service “on a mission to lower prescription drug prices for all Americans.” They’re offering metformin, glipizide, and pioglitazone for free for an entire year. You can benefit from this program even if you have insurance or are on Medicare/Medicaide. The only requirement is you have a valid and current prescription for one of those three medications.
Medications are only one of the things you have to budget for if you live with diabetes. The supplies for your testing kit, for administering insulin, for testing for ketones in your urine, etc., all add up, too. And sometimes surprisingly quickly! Here are some ideas for reducing those costs.
#14 – Cheap Test Strips More Important Than Cheap Glucometer
When you’re buying a glucometer, be sure to check out how much the test strips cost. That’s where these manufacturers make their real money, since the supplies are something you have to keep buying on a regular basis.
#15 – Reduce How Often You Test Your Blood Sugar
Typically, when someone is first diagnosed with diabetes, the best suggestion is to test three, four, even five times a day. This helps you begin to see patterns and learn which foods raise your glucose readings and which foods you can eat without spiking.
However, once you’ve gotten your condition under control and you’ve learned what foods you should and shouldn’t eat, you can probably reduce the number of times you’re testing throughout the day. Many of us just do our fasting blood glucose (first thing in the morning) and adjust from there.
Theresa Smith from HintsandTipsBlog.com suggests asking your doctor if you can test less often so that you can save money on testing supplies.
#16 – Buy Your Supplies Online
Kelan & Brittany, known as TheSavvyCouple.com, recommend buying online whenever possible. This allows you to compare price and quality. You can easily see reviews from other consumers, because we all know low cost isn’t the only factor that makes something economical (it it breaks the first time you use it, it doesn’t matter how little it costs!) Buying online can also save you time and the cost of gas you’d use to go to the store.
The Diabetes Council provides a list of online sources for affordable diabetes supplies.
#17 – Local Pharmacy May Offer Deals or Coupons
Again, always inquire if your pharmacy participates in any cost-saving strategies, such as offering periodical discounts or coupons. Robert Hybki of FrugalBuzz.com says, “You might be able to score a free glucometer with your purchase of test strips. Offers will vary so keep an eye out for them.”
#18 – Diabetes Supplies Manufacturers May Offer Deals & Discounts
Just as with the drug manufacturers, you can contact the diabetes supplies manufacturers and see if they have any assistance programs, deals, coupons, or other discounts you can take advantage of to bring your diabetes expenses down.
Diabetes Daily recently reported that Accu-Chek has created a new, more accurate glucometer that you can get free, if you qualify for and enroll in their new Simple Pay Program. This is an initiative to help lower-income customers afford their test strips.
#19 – Tax-Advantage Accounts Can Help Reduce Your Drug & Supplies Expenses
Sean Merron and Kevin Griffin of 2FrugalDudes.com say that Flexible Spending Accounts (FSA) and Health Savings Accounts (HSA) should be used to pay for medical expenses with pre-tax dollars.
Justin Weinger of NorthernCheapskate.com goes into more detail:
“People with diabetes, and really anyone with any illness, can save money by using all tax-advantaged accounts available to them. A flexible spending account, or FSA, is a great tool to use pretax income on any approved medical expenses. If you are in the 20% tax bracket then this equates to 20% savings on those expenses! A health savings account, or HSA, is a similar tax-advantaged account only it works more like a 401k account for health related savings. Unlike the FSA, an HSA doesn’t have a “use it or lose it” rule attached to it. You can save and invest the money you contribute to your HSA for years to come and then use it as needed on your medical expenses.”
#20 – Consult With Your Peers
Sometimes, we just need a little help from our friends. Jasmin Birtles of MoneyMagpie.com suggests joining the diabetes online community (#DOC) and participate in diabetes forums. Often, others in similar situations can provide information about where to find deals, “how to get financial support, and how to fill in benefits claim forms.”
She also reminds us that these forums can be a great source of emotional support, which we regularly need while dealing with the stress of affording our treatment.
How NOT to Save Money
Robert Hybki of FrugalBuzz.com has a very important recommendation: DO NOT skimp on your prescribed medications. “Never attempt to save money by cutting back on your medication as this will potentially lead to future costly treatments,” he says. And he’s right!
I hope these tips help you to afford your life-saving medications and supplies. If you have found other ways to save money on your diabetes meds and supplies, please share with us in the comments below!
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