A number of you took the opportunity on the LifeScan "cringer" discussion here to point out how insanely expensive glucose test strips are. Bravo! There is no doubt we get gouged on these things, which cost about a dollar apiece (!) and most of us -- at least most Type 1 diabetics -- use an average of 10-12 per day. I'm crappy at math, but my Casio calculator tells me that's about $4,000/year for the strips alone. WtF?
It is quite true that most glucose meter companies (literally or practically) give away their meters for free, knowing full well that we patients will become hooked on a steady supply of their proprietary test strips.
According to D-industry consultant David Kliff, the actual cost of manufacturing a test strip is only about 8 to 12 cents. But the R&D, logistics, quality testing and packaging costs jack up the price. Still, the vendors make about a 60-80% profit on each box, or possibly even higher, Kliff says. Yikes!
In my book, it's a slap in the face to the millions of people suffering from diabetes (and its financial burden) that the industry refuses to together to create a standard universal test strip that can be used in any meter. I'm thinking in terms of the technology industry, which created USB cables, storage disks, and CD-ROMs that consumers can use with devices from any manufacturer. But Kliff reminds me that the tech industry had a financial motive: all the vendors could sell more devices using USB and CDs, whereas pharma vendors reap their rewards from selling the strips themselves, not the testing devices.
The US market for diabetic patient monitoring systems is expected to reach $9.1 Billion by 2010. Current market leader Roche Diagnostics makes a whopping $1Billion gross annual profit from its diabetes division alone, with the majority of that money coming from disposable supplies like test strips.
Ugh! We are literally bleeding out that money...
Why would these vendors care to share their intellectual property, when they're profiting so nicely from it? They've all created "meter families" that utilize one branded test strip (like Accu-Check or FreeStyle), but they've successfully managed to get us consumers focused on the glucose meter as the key differentiator. In fact, whether a test requires a smaller blood sample or is faster mainly depends on the technology in the test strip itself, Kliff says.
And with just a small tweak, almost every meter could be set up to do without that annoying coding, Kliff adds, but the vendors are rolling out the "no coding" technology slowly, to create some big buzz among us consumers, ... "like new Tide with Bleach."
Their R&D efforts are focused on chipping away at the price of manufacturing the strips -- which are churned out by the billions on printing-press like machines somewhere in Asia. If they can knock off just one cent of their cost per strip, they can save billions. Presumably, there's no intention to pass these savings on to patients.
Meanwhile, those of us who can't really afford the hundreds of dollars per month for strips are simply going without testing, or cutting corners by snipping the test strips in half, and other tricks that make for dubious -- and dangerous -- testing results. Ugh.
I haven't got an answer to this problem. But I intend to start lobbying for more affordable test strips right now. Today. With this post.
Meanwhile, a few sources on purchasing test strips at somewhat-less-painful prices:
* Long discussion thread on About.com/diabetes
* More talk and recommendations at Google Groups
* Comparison shopping at Become.com
Come on, Diabetes Community, let's start making some collective noise here.