Summary: Managing chronic conditions like diabetes can be costly, even if you have insurance. We’re starting a segment in our PriceCheck project to crowdsource the price of a common diabetic supply, the test strip. This is the fourth item in our PriceCheck series; the first three were mammograms, MRI’s, and IUD’s. You can not only share on our PriceCheck page, but also search to see the results of our data collection, and you can find the three partners’ blog posts here on our collective page, or join our community on our Facebook page.
Diabetes relates to the way your body uses blood sugar or glucose. If you have diabetes, either Type 1 or Type 2, it means you have too much glucose in your blood, and that can lead to complications. (Here’s a nice Mayo Clinic explainer on diabetes.) Experts say 29.1 million Americans have diabetes, and as many as 79 million have prediabetes. The worst complications of diabetes include heart disease, stroke, kidney damage, eye damage (which can lead to blindness), foot disease (which can lead to amputation) and other ills.
To make their treatments clear, diabetics commonly measure their blood glucose level with a meter and a test strip. That testing level tells whether their glucose levels are in range or not, and thus whether they need to use medications. The test strip has chemicals that react with the glucose in the blood; each strip is used and then discarded.
Prices for test strips (the white strip in the picture) can vary widely, from $87.99 for a box of 50 Accu-Check Smartview strips at Walgreens, to $49.99 for a box of 100 Walgreens brand strips at Walgreens — or, if your insurance covers them, perhaps you get them at no charge. We have heard prices ranging from 25 cents to $1 per test strip, which adds up quickly.
Our PriceCheck partners at KQED public radio in San Francisco and KPCC/Southern California Public Radio are also calling out to their communities to share prices.
Lisa Aliferis at KQED wrote: “ ‘If you rely on our [health care] system,’ said Amy Tenderich, founder and editor of DiabetesMine.com, a diabetes news, advocacy and community website, ‘it’s a major thorn in your side, because you have no way of knowing what the real costs are or how anything is calculated….
” ‘“Every time someone moves to a new insurer,’ Tenderich says, ‘the pricing will be try different on the drugs I’m taking and the test strips as well. Nobody is going to send you a breakdown. You have no way of knowing how they’re calculated.’ ”
Bennet Dunlap, who blogs at ydmv.net (Your Diabetes May Vary), writes about diabetes as a parent of two kids with Type 1 diabetes. He himself is “prediabetes,” meaning that his blood sugar is high but not high enough to be diagnosed as a diabetic.
We asked him about the costs of diabetes. “Diabetes is expensive, even with good insurance,” he said. “The costs of healthy foods, medications, devices supplies, etc all add up. Daily testing certainly is a part of those costs. In a large part that impression of cost may be a function of the strips being a present, ongoing daily expenditure that our friends and family without diabetes do not have to pay.
“However, complications are where diabetes is genuinely costly, both in money and quality of life.”
The most common medication is insulin, used to maintain blood sugar levels within the individual’s target range. It’s usually given as a shot with a syringe, or via an insulin pen or pump. There are a dizzying number of kinds: rapid-acting, short-acting, intermediate-acting and long-acting. They also have different peaks in activity, and different durations.
“When you first start taking insulin shots, your doctor might ask you to change the amount you take or the time you take it several times,” says the diabetes monitoring page from Group Health, a member-governed nonprofit Seattle health cooperative. “You and your doctor will base these changes on the results of your blood sugar tests. You’ll need to make adjustments until you find the dose and schedule that work best for you.”
Each person’s need for insulin is different, Group Health adds: some people can control their blood sugar with one shot of insulin a day, while many people need more than three shots, and many people need more than one type of insulin.
As Dunlap pointed out, test strips are far from the most expensive part of managing diabetes. But the medication choices are dizzyingly varied, and we couldn’t figure out how to standardize that, so we’re asking for test strip shares, since they’re almost universally needed. (You can also share insulin prices, and use the notes field to explain any differences in size or frequency.)
So here’s our ask for you: Go to the PriceCheck page, and share your test strip prices. We’d like to know where you bought them, who your insurer is — and how much the sticker price was, how much insurance paid and how much you paid. You can use the comment box to give details. It’s also possible to share about insulin. Let us know what your costs are, and your coping strategies.
Note: For right now, you can share from anywhere, but you can search only in California. That may change, so stay tuned.
You can not only share prices of test strips — and a range of medical procedures, from emergency-room visits to X-rays to mammograms — on our PriceCheck page, but also search to see the results of our data collection. You can find the three partners’ blog posts here on our collective page, or join our community on our Facebook page.