What to Do When You Can’t Afford Your Diabetes Medication or Supplies

By Roberta Kleinman|2023-10-09T17:36:00-04:00Updated: April 12th, 2019|Diabetes Management, General Information|6 Comments
  • Broken Piggy Bank

In today’s demanding economic times, it may be difficult to manage the cost of ongoing diabetes care. The average person diagnosed with diabetes will spend $16,752.00 per year on medical costs; 60% of that is spent on treatment. The person with diabetes has 2.3 times greater health care expenses yearly, compared to someone without diabetes. Whether you are insured, under-insured or uninsured, monthly medical expenses can certainly add up very quickly. Learn about all the supplies you really need to help with diabetes control. Discover what to do when you can’t afford your diabetes medication or supplies.

 What do I need to manage my blood sugar levels?

  • Many people with diabetes must take oral medications, GLP-1 injectables or insulin shots to avoid serious blood sugar fluctuations. There is usually an out of pocket medication cost.
  • They should also test their blood sugars daily or several times a day, depending on what their physician recommends. They will need a glucometer, lancets, a lancet device, strips, a carrying case, testing solution, a log book and alcohol swabs.
  • Extra batteries for all your supplies.
  • Some need to watch how much they eat and may require a portion control plate to remind them of acceptable and reasonable portions of food.
  • They should learn how to count carbohydrates and will require a visit with a registered dietitian. This may or may not be out of pocket charges.
  • Supplies such as syringes, needles, insulin pump, insulin pump supplies, continuous glucose monitors (CGM), CGM supplies and a sharp’s container.
  • Diabetic snacks such as Glucerna shakes or bars to keep blood sugars stable.
  • Glucose tablets and gels for low blood sugar. Glucagon kits for type 1 diabetes, when blood sugars reach too low, with a possibility of passing out.
  • Ketone testing kits when blood sugars are too high, and ketones may be formed.

What other things do I need to manage my diabetes?

  • Other diabetes requirements that involve a range of expenses including primary care doctor visits, visits to specialists, endocrinologists, cardiologists, ophthalmologists, dermatologists, podiatrists and dentists which involve co-payments and deductibles.
  • Prescription medications costs for other medical conditions such as high cholesterol, high blood pressure or cardiac arrhythmia.
  • Creams for foot care, body, and skin care (diabetes causes dry skin).
  • Diabetic socks and water shoes for swimming to protect your feet at all time. Sturdy, supportive shoes should be worn for complete protection.
  • A well-fitting walking shoe or sneakers for your daily exercise program.
  • A handheld mirror to check the bottom of your feet. A nail clipper and Emory board to easily trim toenails.
  • An electric toothbrush, fluoride toothpaste, an antiseptic mouth rinse and dental floss for complete oral hygiene.
  • A medical alert ID bracelet or necklace.
  • A magnifying mirror with a light for those with vision limitations.
  • OTC products such as Tylenol, antibiotic creams, Band-Aids, sugar-free cough and cold remedies.
  • A blood pressure monitor.
  • A digital scale.

What costs will I incur with diabetes?

All these product expenses add up quickly. Cutting back on or going without diabetes medications, supplies and doctor visits is not the answer. People with diabetes must closely monitor and control the disease to avoid future complications that could become even more costly. Keep in mind the cost of healthy food choices too – whole foods such as fresh fruits, vegetables, lean meats, and low-fat dairy products.

Ask your health care team

  • Never stop taking medications or reduce the doses without talking to your doctor first.
  • Ask your health care team about ways to cut medication costs. Request equivalent generic versions of medication, when possible.
  • Always shop around for the best prices. Look at big box stores or grocery stores which may offer some medications for free such as Metformin.
  • Good RX, Lowest MED and Well RX (on line) all locate the lowest price for specific medications among different pharmacies in your area.
  • If you take more than one medication for diabetes, find out if it is possible to take a combination pill. Blood pressure pills also come in combination. Combination pills may or may not be cheaper.
  • If you have a mail order insurance drug program, take advantage of the 3- month medication supply at a reduced cost.
  • Ask your physician about joining a clinical trial or medication study. Usually, all your medications and medical care are covered during the trial or study period.
  • Find out if you are entitled to Silver Sneakers thru your health insurance- a free exercise program.
  • Ask for samples in your physician’s office; many times, the drug reps’ stock their closets full of medication and OTC samples.
  • Look for discount coupons in flyers or seasonal health magazines in retail pharmacy chains.
  • Take an accredited diabetes health management course which is covered by insurance. Many times, uninsured patients may attend the course for free or at a reduced cash rate. Learning helps you avoid future costs from diabetes complications.

Check your community

  • Check with local community centers, local and state governments and neighborhood clinics to learn more about diabetes medication assistance and help covering the cost of diabetes supplies.
  • Many states have programs to help people with diabetes who do not qualify for Medicaid benefits. Get involved in free screening events sponsored by hospitals, schools and out-patient centers.
  • Look for Diabetes Alert Day activities as well as Diabetes Awareness Day activities and events. These are available in November and March. Look for Diabetes Expo’s, sponsored by the ADA, by checking online for upcoming dates.
  • Check out the YMCA for free or low cost educational, diabetes support groups and exercise programs.
  • Contact the Manufacturer of the medication
  • Contact the companies or supply companies directly to see if they have a program to aid patients without drug supply coverage. Sometimes they offer trial programs, low-cost options or even free medications and products to those who can show financial need.

Check with your health insurance

  • Beyond medications, people with diabetes also need certain supplies to test blood sugar levels. If you have health insurance, contact your provider to find out exactly which supplies your policy covers. They may require the purchase of particular supplies from designated providers to get coverage. Talk to your health care provider about ordering bulk amounts for optimum savings.
  • Pick the best insurance plan for you during open enrollment. Each year the insurance plan may change as well as your own personal needs. Open enrollment is from November 1 – December.
  • Get an authorization prior to any test or procedure to avoid out of pocket costs.

Shop at food bulk stores or online

Even if you live alone or are a couple, you can shop in stores such as Costco or Sam’s club and buy food and health products in bulk. Learn to pre-wrap meals and freeze for fast, easy and cheaper selections. Look into ordering food on Amazon which may be priced lower and offer free delivery.

Cigarettes and alcohol

No one should be smoking, especially when you have diabetes. Cardiac disease is already higher in people with diabetes and smoking just increases your heart disease risk. If you drink alcohol, do so in moderation and keep it simple- light beer, dry wine and regular spirits without mixers. Completely avoiding these habits will preserve your health and lots of money.

Ask your employer-FSA

See if your employer offers a Flexible Spending Account (FSA). These accounts allow you to contribute money (thru your employer) from your paycheck to a savings account before taxes. Generally, you can use this money for out of pocket costs including- eye glasses, co-pays, deductibles, some medications, medical equipment, dental work or OTC items. You can usually save up to 2700 per year. At the end of the year or grace period, you will lose the left- over money in your FSA, so plan your expenses, accordingly.

Try to find cheaper on-line retail companies

  • Seek out online companies like ADW Diabetes to find low and affordable products especially when you are paying out of pocket for your supplies. Shop around for discount diabetes supplies and learn how to buy them for the lowest price. For example, a 100-count box of test strips is less costly that a 50-count box. Talk to your health care provider about ordering bulk amounts for optimum savings.
  • Do your research about ordering strips through the mail. You might be able to order a 90-day supply for less. Ask your insurance plan if they charge a lower co-payment for this type of purchase. Watch for free blood glucose monitor offers. Keep in mind the long-term costs of paying for strips for the meter. If they are costly, you might want to continue to look for a better free meter deal.
  • Look for store brand name meters instead of big medical company name meters which tend to cost more.

Get the essentials

Consider eliminating optional items such as alcohol swabs. You can clean your hands using basic soap and water. If you are struggling to keep up with the cost of essentials such as test strips, discuss a feasible testing schedule with your health care provider. Vary the testing time daily to give you more information than testing only while fasting (unless advised by your physician). Testing “in pairs” such as before a meal and 2 hours after a meal or fasting in the morning and at bedtime can give your additional information.

You do not need to eat fancy diabetes specific name brand snacks, if they are too costly. Stick to fresh fruit, nuts, hummus dip, vegetable slices, cheese squares and whole grain crackers for perfect snacks.

Avoid convenience foods, processed foods and frozen meals-for the cost and your health.

Insulin pens vs insulin vials

Many people with diabetes are dependent on insulin.

Compare the cost of an insulin pen versus the cost of a vial. People taking small doses of insulin may find a pen to be cheaper in the long run because less insulin is disposed of at the end of the month. Check with the company or drug insert to see how long the insulin will be effective, once opened. Write the start date on your insulin pen or vial. You can keep insulin at room temperature between 28-30 days.

Do not use insulin if expired. Be aware of the ‘donut hole’ if you have Medicare so you do not get any surprises in cost towards the middle of the year.

The Bottom-line

The cost of proper diabetes self-management can be steep, but the long-term cost of related health complications is much higher- physically, mentally and financially. Work days missed because of poor self-care can also cost you a hefty amount. Reach out and explore all your options for lowering costs. Talk to your insurance company, local government representatives and healthcare team to find out how you can cover the cost of essential diabetes medications and supplies. Look online to see if you can do better out of pocket. Take your diabetes self-care seriously but try to avoid unnecessary costs.

About the Author: Roberta Kleinman

Roberta Kleinman, RN, M. Ed., CDE, is a registered nurse and certified diabetes educator. She grew up in Long Island, NY. Her nursing training was done at the University of Vermont where she received a B.S. R.N. Robbie obtained her Master of Education degree, with a specialty in exercise physiology, from Georgia State University in Atlanta, Georgia. She is a member of the American Diabetes Association as well as the South Florida Association of Diabetes Educators. She worked with the education department of NBMC to help educate the hospital's in-patient nurses about diabetes. She practices a healthy lifestyle and has worked as a personal fitness trainer in the past. She was one of the initiators of the North Broward Diabetes Center (NBMC) which started in 1990 and was one of the first American Diabetes Association (ADA) certified programs in Broward County, Florida for nearly two decades. Robbie has educated patients to care for themselves and has counseled them on healthy eating, heart disease, high lipids, use of glucometers, insulin and many other aspects of diabetes care. The NBMC Diabetes Center received the Valor Award from the American Diabetes Center for excellent care to their patients. Robbie has volunteered over the years as leader of many diabetes support groups. More about Nurse Robbie


  1. Rick June 23, 2019 at 5:11 pm - Reply

    I am T2 diabtic. I apparently reached the coverage gap with Blue Cross. I cant afford either of my insulin, lantus and humalog, nor my rosuvastin, motalukast medications. I have checked over a dozen places for help. I am on social security and i make more than the 18,000.00 amount allowed so no help there. What can I do?

  2. Christa Turnell June 20, 2018 at 4:30 pm - Reply

    Medicare and medicaid refuse to cover insulin for people with type 1. I just paid $300 for a bottle of novolog I’m not willing to die with Medicare and Medicaid.

    • Anonymous June 26, 2018 at 8:11 pm - Reply

      Christa, this can’ be right. I too am a Type I and will be going on Medicare soon and am currently uninsured. There are SO MANY assistance programs that help with the costs of most of your prescriptions, just spend a fair amount of time researching, good luck!

  3. Sherry November 16, 2017 at 3:47 pm - Reply

    I can’t afford my test strips . I’m type 2 diabetic

    • ADW Diabetes November 16, 2017 at 4:20 pm - Reply

      Hi Sherry,

      We have free meter deals with the purchase of test strips that you can check out. Additionally we do post coupons on our Facebook, Twitter and Google plus pages as well as send out emails if you want to subscribe to our newsletter. Hope this helps!

  4. VeggieNut April 3, 2015 at 5:44 pm - Reply

    I’m a long term T2 diabetic who is low income and I went without any kind of health insurance for several years until I recently got old enough for Medicare. I’ve found good online prices from ADW and they offer quality products. Their shipping cost is low and your order ships for free with a minimum purchase. Sometimes ADW has good sales with free shipping and no minimum purchase required.
    Check out free health clinics. Before I got Medicare, I found a free health clinic in the county where I live for employed residents of that county with no insurance. It helped for a couple of years until they discharged me and eventually Medicare kicked in. However, the downside is that I found it hard to get any real help from this free clinic. They gave me no testing supplies except for a meter that I didn’t even need, no test strips for it or for the meter I already had, no dental care, and no help with my diabetic retinopathy. However, I did get much needed cataract surgery for one eye because my retina specialist included in one of his reports that I needed it so he could see the back of my eye better. But even with that, I still had to push hard to get the surgery done. In my experience, it was certainly better than nothing and free clinics are definitely worth looking into as a source of temporary help.
    Another way to help make healthcare affordable is to ask your healthcare provider(s) if they give discounts or even free care for low income, uninsured individuals. My retina specialist did just that for me until Medicare with Medicaid (QMB) benefits kicked in. I also found a local dentist who gives discounts for the uninsured. I’ve not always been low income with no insurance and I know it can be hard to ask for help but there are people who will help you if they know you need it. .
    Another source of help that I wouldn’t underestimate is alternative methods of treatment which are usually much less costly. It takes a lot of time and effort to research and study in depth how to do this yourself and it’s a good idea to take detailed notes on what you find. Holistic/Natural medicine has helped both me and my pets. Some of the supplements that I take are: CoQ10, Alpha Lipoic Acid, Lutein, Zeaxanthin, Vitamins E, C, D3, B complex plus methyl B12, citrus bioflavanoids, I-Caps by Alcon, Benfotiamine, Hawthorne Berries, Olive Leaf Extract standardized, calcium, magnesium, turmeric, fresh ginger root, grapeseed extract, gymnema sylvestre plus a few others which I rotate. I also take taurine because I am a vegetarian and because it’s beneficial for eye health. One of my favorite things I make is herbal tea using turmeric, fresh ginger root and olive leaf extract. This tea has anti-inflammatory properties and will also help boost the immune system. I like it so much that I usually don’t even sweeten it.
    Take the initiative to make lifestyle changes yourself. Focus on the areas of diet control, stress control and exercise. By staying as healthy as you can, you will not only feel better but you will also have lower health care costs.
    I’ve had to be a real do-it-yourselfter for several years now for both me and my pets and it’s paid off. A lot of success in controlling T2 diabetes really does come down to what you do. There is no doctor or treatment of any kind or bottle of pills that can fix not taking care of yourself. You’re the NUMBER ONE all-star player in this ballgame so don’t forget to take care of YOU!

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