If you have diabetes, taking care of your body and mind is hard work, a 24/7 job. Unfortunately, figuring out how to pay for your medical needs can be equally difficult and time-consuming. 

The American Diabetes Association reports the average person with diabetes spends more $9,600 a year in related medical expenses. To help you reduce the extra financial burdens, here are some tips to save money and transform yourself into a "TPWD," or Thrifty Person With Diabetes.


Shop Cheaper Non-Prescription Items Online

Many Americans now know about outrageously high insulin prices, thanks to our diabetes activist community and responsive media. But PWDs know there are plenty of other more mundane expenses too -- for one thing, the costs of adhesive wipes, lancets, alcohol swabs and other non-prescription supplies that can really add up. 

The good news is that you can find some good deals for these online. 

On eBay, for example, a pack of 50 AllKare Medical Adhesive Wipes are available for as little as $9. When I went to my local pharmacy, they charged more than twice that much for the same item.  If you don’t trust eBay, sites like AvacareMedical and ShoppinSimple have the same product for $12-$13. 


Clip Coupons for Healthcare Items

My mother, who grew up during the Great Depression, often urged me to “clip coupons” from supermarkets and pharmacies (that was back when people still relied on paper and scissors to save documents, and dinosaurs roamed the Earth). I resisted that for years. Well, now I’m finally listening to her.

A recent quick search yielded coupons from Walgreens offering savings discounts on diabetic test strips and glucose meters. Walgreens also has a “'weekly ad"  with deals and a separate list of coupons, as does retail pharmacy chain CVS. Many pharmacies, supermarkets and discount stores also have circulars and hand-outs that you can find if you shop in person. Thanks, Mom! 


Explore Pharmacy Shopping via Mobile Apps

A number of apps are available to help you search local pharmacies to compare prices for prescription and non-prescription items. These include GoodRxWellRx and PharmacyChecker.com. They’re particularly helpful for those who don’t have insurance and need to pay list prices.

The prices vary enormously, so to truly deserve the accolade of “Thrifty PWD,” you need to look very carefully. The quality of the prescription drugs available from online pharmacies also varies, so you need to be cautious. To help you, the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy (NABP) culled through pharmacies with a verification process and has come up with a list of the better ones. For example, if you’re checking out an outfit called “Uncle Frankie’s Drugs R’ Us,” and find they’re not on the list, don’t use them.


Find Insulin Discounts and Savings Programs

One of the most expensive items for diabetes is insulin, which anyone can see just from watching news stories and Congressional hearings these days. Some thrifty PWDs have resorted to traveling outside the USA to get less-expensive insulin, while others turn to trading or pay-it-forward efforts within the diabetes community.

Another route to more affordable insulin is to take advantage of savings programs from insulin manufacturers. With all the horror stories about high insulin costs floating around, it may be surprising to find some (moderately) good deals with manufacturer’s coupons. For example, right now:

  • Sanofi: In May 2019, this company announced that its Valyou Savings Program requires a flat fee of just $99 for up to 10 vials or boxes of pens for its various insulin brands, including Lantus, Toujeo, Apidra, and Admelog. Considering that people are sometimes forced to pay two or three times as much for the same quantity of insulin, that’s a big savings. Eligible for this program are people who are not covered under federal or state programs like Medicare, Medicaid or Tri-Care, and don't qualify for other Patient Assistance Programs.
  • Lilly: Earlier this year, this company launched a new "authorized generic" insulin known as Insulin Lispo, or half-priced Humalog at only $137 per vial, or $265 per box of five pens. This is also aimed at people without insurance, or the under-insured or those with high deductibles who might need a less-expensive option.
  • Novo: While this insulin manufacturer hasn't matched efforts by its two big competitors, Novo does offer a Patient Assistance savings program offering eligible individuals various types of insulin brands for less than they might normally pay. They also offer co-pay assistance and savings cards to pay as little as $25 for a vial of insulin to eligible patients at their NovoCare site.
  • Afrezza Inhalable Insulin: If you’re using or want to try Afrezza, you can fill your prescription for a low $15 co-pay using a downloadable savings card. When one promo runs out, there’s almost always a fresh one online to be downloaded and used for your next refill.
  • Walmart Insulin: The big retail discount chain offers older-school Novolin R and N insulins for just for $35 a vial. Note that these are different formulations from newer analogue insulins used by most patients today, so you shouldn't switch without the advice of your healthcare team. 

All these programs have eligibility requirements that can present challenges -- and they clearly don’t come close to solving the systematic issues behind outrageously high insulin prices -- but they are still options that can help save money for those in need.


Search the Medicine Assistance Tool Database

A few years ago, the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) tapped its member orgs to help create an online search tool of patient financial assistance programs called the Medicine Assistance Tool (MAT). It does not include insulin, but does include syringes and test strips, and a host of other diabetes meds like Metformin, Glyburide and Byetta.

You start by searching up the meds you need, and then are prompted to enter information about your annual income and insurance situation; of course, eligibility requirements apply. Note that MAT is not its own patient assistance program, but rather a search engine for many of the programs and resources the pharma industry has been offering for decades. It's definitely worth a search if you're in need of low-cost meds.


Discover Affordable Diabetes Test Strips

When it comes to BG test strips, you can also consider shopping around for deals with companies that bundle strips together with other products and services for a single combined monthly fee. 

Lots of plans are available from One Drop. In one of their simplest, for a bit more than $23 per month you can get 100 test strips plus access to a Certified Diabetes Educator (CDE) via their mobile app. For higher fees, you can get an unlimited supply of strips along with the same benefits.

It’s also worth checking out Livongo and Diathrive for plans that include test strips, meters, a logging app, coaching and other benefits.

Some people, on the other hand, are turning to a growing "gray market" for test strips, in which commercial groups buy strips from PWDs and other sources and resell them. Go online and you will find more than a few outfits doing this, with names like TestStripSearch.com, QuickCash4TestStrips.com and Stripsupply.com. 

I checked into some of these and was underwhelmed. On StripSupply.com, 100 AcuCheck Aviva test strips are now available for $59 a month. But the same quantity of strips is available online from CVS for $5 less ($54.99). Given the fact that the quality control in these sketchy online outfits is uncertain, I would urge caution.


Ask for Free Samples of Diabetes Meds and Supplies 

If you’re having trouble paying for all your diabetes meds, don’t hesitate to ask about samples whenever you visit your health care provider. I can’t count the number of times doctors have given me free medications and supplies during the 57 years I’ve had type 1 diabetes.  

However,  keep in mind that it’s much harder to get samples of prescription drugs like insulin these days, as the practice has been banned by an increasing number of academic medical centers and private clinics. 

Another path to freebies is to attend the American Diabetes Association’s local Diabetes Expos, where samples are often provided along with health screenings and classes.

Finally, more than a few PWDs donate or trade drugs and supplies with each other online. One of the many reasons to get active in the Diabetes Online Community (DOC) is that if you can’t afford necessary stuff or run out of it, there are plenty of people out there with defective pancreases who have big hearts and will respond if you ask for help.


Get Assistance with Out-of-Network Insurance Bills

Even if you’re lucky enough to have health insurance, there’s a good chance you are shelling out more money than you need to for out-of-network bills. Fortunately, you can save money if you use a platform and mobile app called Better, that allows you to scan and upload any doctor's bill that's out-of-network (not covered by your insurance) and submit it to the company.

Better then handles the entire claims process for you, submitting an appeal on your behalf that very often results in reimbursement for the money you spent. Their staffers analyze billing codes and contracts and, if necessary, argue with the insurance companies (saving you headaches as well as money). If you get reimbursed, they take a small cut; if the claim is unsuccessful, you pay nothing. Good deal!


Bottom Line 

There are many clever paths to saving money on your diabetes necessities. Don't just pay full price and regret it. Instead, think about shopping around online, researching Pharma discount programs, and asking other PWDs if they have supplies to spare.