Approximately 29 million Americans, or 9.3 percent of the U.S. population, have diabetes, and of those, one out of four don’t know they have it. With so many affected by diabetes, the costs associated with it are a growing problem. More than 1 in 10 health care dollars in the U.S. are spent directly on diabetes and its complications. As of 2012, the total healthcare costs for diagnosed diabetes in the U.S. is roughly $245 billion, an increase of 41 percent since 2007. That includes direct medical costs of $176 billion worth of hospital and emergency care, doctor visits, and medications. And according to the American Diabetes Association, a person with diabetes spends on average $13,700 per year on care.
National Diabetes Month, held every November, is not only a time of year to raise awareness and hold discussions about diabetes prevention and treatment, but to discuss the harm that high care costs can cause. A recent poll conducted by Consumer Reports Best Buy Drugs found that when people can’t afford their health care, they resort to potentially dangerous actions—putting off doctor’s appointments and medical procedures, not filling prescriptions, skipping medication doses, and even taking expired prescriptions.
If you think you might have diabetes (read about symptoms here), don’t delay—schedule an appointment your doctor right away and get tested. Type 2 diabetes is a complicated disease that more than doubles the risk of developing and dying of heart disease. It also raises your risk of stroke, nerve damage, blindness, impotence, amputation, premature death, and other serious health problems. Detecting it early on is both lifesaving as well as money-saving.
If it turns out you do have diabetes, talk with your doctor about lifestyle changes, such as weight loss and dietary changes that can help you control the disease. Those measures can be as effective medication, especially in the early stages of diabetes and can result in lower long-term medical costs, from, for instance, insulin and other injectable diabetes drugs.
If you and your doctor determine that medication makes sense, try metformin first. In recent years, a strong medical consensus has emerged in the U.S., Europe, and Australia that most newly diagnosed people with diabetes who need a medicine should first be prescribed this drug. If metformin fails to bring your blood glucose into the normal range, you may need a second drug—either glipizide or glimepiride are good options. These medicines are available as low-cost generics, costing from $4 to $35 a month, and work just as well as newer classes of diabetes drugs. In fact, a number of the newer drugs do not lower blood sugar as well as metformin, glipizide, or glimepiride.
To further trim costs, take advantage of state and local programs that you may be eligible for, for example, the nonprofit group NeedyMeds offers help finding diabetes-specific prescription assistance programs that help you afford your medicines. Partnership for Prescription Assistance and RxAssist are similar programs that offer help affording care and you don’t need to be uninsured to qualify for assistance.
Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, you cannot be denied coverage because of preexisting conditions, such as diabetes, and many insurance companies now offer disease management programs for people with diabetes or other chronic diseases. Medicare helps pay for the diabetes services, supplies, and equipment and for some preventive services for people who are at risk for diabetes, although coinsurance or deductibles may apply. And some pharmacies will offer programs to help monitor your condition and keep tabs on your blood sugar.
– Ginger Skinner
Ginger Skinner is a writer for Consumer Reports Best Buy Drugs, a public education project dedicated to helping you talk to your doctor about prescription drugs, and helping you find the most effective and safest drugs for the best price. To stay up to date on Best Buy Drugs news and advice, connect with them on Facebook, Google+, and Twitter, and sign up for the free monthly e-alerts.