5 Ways to Save More on Your Diabetes Meds

Dr. Sharon Orrange
Dr. Orrange is an Associate Professor of Clinical Medicine in the Division of Geriatric, Hospitalist and General Internal Medicine at the Keck School of Medicine of USC.
Posted on

More than 29 million Americans have diabetes. That’s more than 10% of the US—and that number continues to rise. More than 1.7 million adults were diagnosed with diabetes in 2012 alone.

Fortunately, several new medications for diabetes have recently been approved—Toujeo (a new insulin product), Synjardy (a new combination of empagliflozin/metformin) and others. These new drugs provide several benefits such as fewer side effects or foolproof self-dosing with an insulin pen.

Unfortunately, these new drugs aren’t cheap—they may do a better job of keeping your diabetes under control, but brand-name prescriptions also mean more cost for you.

So what can you do to keep your costs down? Here’s 5 tips to help you find the best balance between cost and effectiveness.

1. Generics when you can.

This is obvious, but metformin (Glucophage) and metformin XR (Glucophage XR) remain the first thing your doctor will prescribe. These drugs are very inexpensive generics, though the extended release can run a little bit more expensive. If your co-pay is high, check on GoodRx to look for a cheaper cash price—regular metformin is available at many pharmacies for under $5 per month. Also check to see if taking two 500 mg tablets will be cheaper than a single 1000 mg tablet, or if splitting your pills can save you some dough.

2. Compare long-acting insulins.

Newer insulins cost more but protect you from low blood sugars. Levemir or Lantus are the usual choices for branded long-acting insulins.

The duration of action for Levemir is shorter (15 hours vs 24 hours for Lantus). It may require twice daily dosing, while Lantus is once daily—think of this when paying big bucks. Always check the formulary for your insurance coverage for their preferred long acting insulin so you don’t get stuck paying out of pocket.

Your next step is to look at the manufacturer savings programs for both, though Medicare patients aren’t eligible. Both Lantus and Levemir have savings programs than can reduce your cost to $25 per pen. You can find more info on the Lantus program here, and the Levemir program here.

Finally, ask your doctor for samples if you still can’t afford your insulin. You should know that NPH insulins like Humulin N or Novolin N are a cheaper option—though they may not be as cost effective given your higher risk of low blood sugar.

3. Consider DPP-4 inhibitors (Januvia and Onglyza).

These drugs will be expensive for you, but they are more cost effective than cheaper options like glyburide and glipizide because you don’t have the risk of low sugars and avoid the side effect of weight gain.

Onglyza (saxagliptin) 2.5 mg and 5 mg tablets are the same price, so you can split if needed. Januvia (sitagliptin) 50 mg and 100 mg are also the same price—and if you take both Januvia and metformin, they come combined in Janumet, which will cost you the same as Januvia.

4. Compare the newer injectables (GLP-1 receptor agonists).

Victoza (liraglutide) and Trulicity (dulaglutide) are expensive brand-name injectable pens, but they are good for lowering A1c and weight loss. These drugs are definitely pricey but if you’re stuck paying cash for them, know that the price of one month (4 pens) of Trulicity may be cheaper than a month of Victoza.

Byetta (exenatide) is less practical because it’s used twice daily. Another thing to consider: Bydureon (exenatide) and Trulicity are once a week, while Victoza is used once daily, which could affect your total cost, especially if you’re paying out of pocket.

5. Don’t pay for supplies (if you don’t have to).

Glucometers and test strips should be covered by your insurance, sometimes at no cost to you. Aetna and Anthem, for example, will cover 100 strips a month through an in-network pharmacy. Like insulin though, make sure you check your formulary to see which brand your plan will cover.

Don’t have insurance? Check prices for test strips online. You can save significantly over buying diabetes supplies in a brick-and-mortar pharmacy.

However you get your strips, don’t pay for a glucometer without doing some quick research into getting it free. Most test strip companies will give away a free meter in hopes that you’ll continue to buy the test strips to go with it. You can find more information on how to get free meters here.

Dr O.

Put drug prices & coupons in your pocket!
We'll text you a link to download our free Android or iPhone app
Get GoodRx Mobile App

Drugs featured in this story

Filed under