Diabetes Forecast

Tips for Saving on Diabetes Meds

By Paris Roach, MD, Editor-in-Chief , , ,

The cost of medications to treat diabetes can often lead to financial hardship and difficult choices. However, there are a number of cost-saving changes you and your care provider might want to consider if you find yourself without insurance coverage for medications or if your health plan requires you to pay more for more expensive, non-generic drugs.

You've probably heard of lower-cost generic drugs. Although there are technically no "generic" insulins, many people, especially those with type 2 diabetes, can be adequately treated with human insulins, which are much less expensive than the newer "analog" insulins. Human insulins still carry brand names, like the ReliOn human insulins, which are manufactured for Wal-Mart by Novo Nordisk. Another way to save is to buy insulin in vials rather than in pens, since pens cost about 30 percent more per unit.

Metformin is now available in generic formulations for much less money, although a few extended-release formulations of the medication remain proprietary and carry higher retail price tags. Keep an eye out for other generics, too; glimepiride and most other drugs in its class are available as generics, and pioglitazone may appear as a generic in the next year or two. Also, look carefully at brand-name medications that combine different diabetes drugs in a single pill; generic two-pill alternatives may be available.

Here's one example of the kind of savings someone who pays entirely out of pocket for medications might see. Joe, who has type 2 diabetes, takes 15 units of an analog insulin (in vials) at mealtimes (45 units per day), 60 units of a long-acting analog in the evening, and 2,000 mg of a proprietary extended-release metformin tablet. Switching to human insulins in vials and generic extended-release metformin could save Joe an impressive $1,350 every 90 days, and nearly $1,600 if he was originally using analog insulin pens.

Pill splitting can also cut costs. For example, if you take 5 mg of a drug at $2 per pill and the 10-mg pill costs $3 per pill, you can save $1 by splitting the 10-mg pill. Inexpensive pill-splitting devices are available at most pharmacies. Make sure you check with your pharmacist, as some pills cannot be split, especially extended-release formulations.

Finally, you should talk to your care provider about how much bang you're getting for your buck. If 10 mg of a drug isn't giving you any better control than 5 mg but costs more, maybe you're just as well off medically, and better off financially, to stay with the 5 mg. Another scenario: If you're on an expensive three- or four-drug regimen that isn't controlling your blood glucose, maybe you would be better off both medically and financially by switching to a less expensive human insulin–based regimen.

If you're having trouble affording your medications, talk to your care provider. Never skip your meds or "stretch" them by taking less than the prescribed dose. You can almost always find an affordable way to keep your blood glucose under good control.



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