Diabetes Forecast

Diabetes and the Economy

By Tracey Neithercott ,

If the financial pinch has you skimping on medication, you're apparently not alone. According to a recent Harris Interactive/Health Day poll, more than half of all Americans are worried about being able to afford prescription medicines and medical care. Because of financial constraints, 28 percent of Americans didn't visit a doctor for a medical problem and 22 percent didn't fill a prescription, the poll found. Judging from several pharmaceutical companies' first-quarter earnings, many people with diabetes are cutting back, too. "People tend to take care of their immediate needs, and they don't see these as immediate needs," says David Kliff, publisher of the electronic newsletter Diabetic Investor, which follows the business side of diabetes.

In the first three months of 2009, major pharmaceutical companies reported sagging profits in their diabetes divisions. U.S. sales of Abbott's diabetes care products (which include Freestyle meters) plunged 12 percent-the greatest drop in the company's medical products division. Sales of GlaxoSmithKline's type 2 medications Avandia and Avandamet were off 18 percent in the United States, though that decline may have much to do with recent safety concerns. And Johnson & Johnson had an 11 percent decline compared with a year earlier in U.S. sales of diabetes care products like Lifescan's One Touch blood glucose meters and Animas's OneTouch insulin pumps.

"The economy is having an impact on the business as more and more people lose jobs and they lose health care coverage," says Dave Detmers, a spokesperson for Lifescan. "People are deciding what to do with their limited dollars."

There are two reasons for the sales slump, says Kliff. First, lack of comprehensive insurance coverage of test strips forces some people with diabetes to scrimp on testing their blood glucose. Second, when people are short on cash, they often skip or ration both medications and test strips. "Unemployment is increasing. We have an economy somewhat stabilizing but nowhere near where it was. You can't turn on the TV without hearing about job loss," says Kliff. "People have decided they're going to test less frequently or not at all."

On top of that, says Kliff, financial worries may be forcing some people to delay doctor's visits. But avoiding the doctor just delays preventive care and can put people with diabetes at risk for complications-it's at the doctor's office that they'll learn it's unsafe to skip meds. "The problem with diabetes is that it's a slow killer. Somebody can be out of control [in terms of blood glucose levels] and feel fine," says Kliff, who has type 2 diabetes.

According to Detmers, there are ways to save a few bucks:

  • Find which supplies require the lowest co-pay. For instance, does one brand of test strips cost less than another under a specific insurance plan?
  • Buy prescriptions in bulk instead of purchasing month to month.
  • Use a flexible spending account if available.

The bottom line? Though money may be tight, it's important for people with diabetes to keep taking their medications and testing their blood glucose regularly. Before quitting any medications (that includes blood pressure and cholesterol drugs, too), it's essential to talk with a doctor.



Take the Type 2
Diabetes Risk Test