While everyone’s diabetes treatment plan, medications, and technology may be different, there is one thing we can all agree on: diabetes is expensive. In two previous posts at The Perfect D, I gave some sense of what the bare minimum of care for a U.S. adult with Type 1 diabetes would be and also financial resources and programs to help with the financial burden of living with diabetes.
However, this post is about how much it could cost an adult with Type 1 diabetes if they used the technology and medications that are currently out on the market (and thought of as “the latest and greatest”) and paid out of pocket with no insurance. Research on this topic has shown me that: 1) prices can fluctuate wildly, so it pays to shop around and 2) there is a very big gap (financially, medically, and technologically) between the bare minimum and “surviving” and actually utilizing the tools and latest technology that is out there.
So, the hypothetical person for this exercise is a Type 1 adult in the United States who weighs 60kg, just like the other calculation post I did.
- These prices are accurate on the websites I have referenced for December 1, 2014. They may change, they may add shipping, they may not offer the services, technology, or drugs on their website after this is posted. These prices are not a guarantee. They are to be used as a reference.
- The listing of prices/websites on this post does not mean that I endorse the company or product or service.
- I have not listed all the products available on the market for people with Type 1 diabetes. I have listed major ones to give you an idea of major manufacturers’ costs for the products that are available for general public viewing.
- I did not call any companies and ask for pricing. Why? Because I believe that we, the diabetes community, should be able to really know how much something costs without having to go through hoops and customer service/sales representatives. Device prices should be listed on a company’s website, knowing that insurance pricing will be different. (We should be able to know how much a drug would cost without insurance, too.)
- Some of the items are only dispensed with a prescription.
- Yes, I know that some people with Type 1 do not use an insulin pump. In fact, only 30% of Type 1s use a pump for insulin delivery. Some are happy and do well with MDIs/pen needles. The cost of pen needles are comparable to using a syringe, so you can refer to this post if you want to do your own calculations. As I say, my blog, my words…
- I used averages. That means that some pump therapies may cost more or less than the average.
If you take a total of 30 units per day (hey, adjust for more or less, this is a hypothetical Type 1 adult weighing 60kg), you will take about 900 units per month. You might be able to get by on one vial a month, but this doesn’t factor in correction boluses that might need to be raged to bring down a high blood sugar or a heavy carb meal. So…. two vials per month. If you’re on a pump, it’s two vials of fast acting. (Don’t forget that you’ll need that back up prescription for long-acting insulin if your pump malfunctions…)
Apidra vial 10ml = $177.59
Humalog vial 10ml = $217.45
Novolog vial 10ml = $210.49
Average cost per month (insulin pump): $403.68
Average cost per year (insulin pump): $4,844.16
Average cost per month (MDI): $201.84
Average cost per year (MDI): $2,422.08
If you aren’t on an insulin pump, T1s must use a long-acting insulin in conjunction with their fast acting. This hypothetical (hopefully not hypoglycemic) T1 would use one vial of fast-acting and one vial of long-acting insulin per month.
Lantus vial 10ml = $284.39
Levemir vial 10ml = $216.69
Average cost per month (MDI): $250.54
Average cost per year (MDI): $3,006.48
(So, for those of you keeping a tally for comparison, the total cost per year for insulin using a pump is $4,844.16 and for MDI, it’s $5,428.56.)
You know that some of these prices may not be the price you actually pay if you have no insurance. You call the manufacturer and explain that you will be paying out of pocket and ask what the “cash pay price” would be and if they have a financing program. (Some companies offer this; others do not.) But these prices are what’s shown on websites where you can purchase them….so ta-da.)
Most pumps are under warranty for four years. Some have upgrade programs. Others have a “trade your old pump from another company and we’ll give you a discount…) Do your homework before committing to a pump. Please. Some will let you test drive. Others have a return in 30 days policy.
Minimed Paradigm Real-Time Revel 723 Pump = $5655.99
t:Slim Insulin Pump = $5720.00
Omnipod = $800 for the PDM, which is the brains of the pod. The pods are extra. ($337.00 per 10 pod box and 12 boxes needed annually) = $4844.00
Animas Ping = $4977.29
Accu-Chek Spirit Pump = $4,751.07
(I would have added the Asante Snap, but there are no places online to get an actual price. I got estimates from blogs and news outlets that say $700ish, but without a definitive click, I can’t in good faith include it.)
Got pumps? Then you need cartridges. Can’t have one without the other (except if you’re talking the Omnipod, because the pods act as the cartridge and the insertion set.). Cartridges (or reservoirs, if you are Medtronic) are needed to hold that expensive insulin you purchased.
Omnipod = $0.00 because the pod acts as cartridge and insertion set. See below.
T:Slim Insulin Pump Cartridge – 3ml – Box of 10– 10/bx = $46.19
- Minimed Paradigm Reservoir 1.8ml – 10 Bx = $38.00
- Minimed Paradigm Reservoir 3ml – 10 Bx = $36.39
- Insertion device for your Medtronic infusion sets = $26.20
- Serter devices for your Medtronic sensors = $25.00/$14.70 (depending on the type of sensor you use)
Some people change their cartridges once per week, while others change every three days. So, you could use 4 per month or 10 per month.
Average Total Cost per month: $41.39
Average Total cost per year (9 boxes): $372.51
Average Total cost per year (12 boxes): $496.68
Those pumps and cartridges aren’t enough to get the insulin into your body. You need insertion sets (again, unless you use Omnipod, which are tubeless and incorporate the cannula directly into the pod).
Most people change their insertion set every 3 days. (You should. I don’t judge. Some people change it more frequently, due to inflammatory reactions or the dreaded occlusion.) So, you’ll go through one box per month… if not more.
Most people have a preference of the type of insertion type/tubing length they use. 90º or 30/45º angles, short tubing or long tubing, 9 or 6 mm cannula, metal or plastic… so I’m giving you a few choices. And again, it pays to shop around. Sometimes the manufacturer of the pump is not the cheapest place to get supplies (which confuses me to no end…).
Reference: Omnipod pods (10/box)= $337.00
Inset Infusion Set 23″ 9mm (10/box) = $95.77
Silhouette 17mm Cannula / 43″ Tubing (10/box) /cannula only = $121.19/$117.30
Average Total Cost per month: $101.60
Average Total cost per year : $1219.20
Continuous Glucose Monitor (CGM) & Supplies
Dexcom Platinum G4 Sensors (4/pk) = $349.00
Dexcom Platinum G4 Transmitter = $599.00
Dexcom Platinum G4 Receiver = $599.00
(Remember that you need all three of these items to get your Dexcom to work properly. Start up can be expensive. In addition, the new Dexcom transmitter warranty is only good for 6 months and you will most likely need to purchase two each year.)
Initial/Replacement Cost of Transmitter & Receiver:$1797.00
Cost per month for sensors: $349.00
Total cost per year for sensors: $4188.00
Total Annual Dexcom cost: $5985.00
Dexcom Share Cradle w/ Free Service = $299.00
(This is an add-on device that caregivers/loved ones can use to view the graph/numbers on the receiver in another room.)
The Medtronic insulin pumps use integrated technology on their Revel and 530G to show the continuous glucose monitor graphs/numbers, so you don’t need a “receiver” if you are using these pumps. You can purchase a receiver to use the Sof-Sensor sensors, but… why? (And I couldn’t find a place to purchase with a price on a stand-alone Medtronic receiver.) The sensors cost are per month, as the Enlites last longer than the Sof-sensors.
Enlite® Sensor (5 pack) – used with the Medtronic 530G pump only = $473.00
Total cost per month: $473.00
Total cost per year: $5676.00
Sof-sensor® Glucose Sensors (10 pack) = $439.00
Total cost per month: $439.00
Total cost per year: $5268.00
mySentry Outpost (this allows you to see data from the Medtronic pump/sensor in another room) = $500.00
Blood Glucose Monitors/Test Strips
According to the ADA, for Type 1s, self-monitoring of blood glucose (SMBG) is key to diabetes management. They recommend 6 – 8 times per day as a minimum of blood glucose testing. When you read the Standard of Care document, they state:
“…prior to meals and snacks, occasionally postprandially, at bedtime, prior to exercise, when they suspect low blood glucose, after treating low blood glucose until they are normal glycemic, and prior to critical tasks such as driving.”
8x/day minimum = 240 strips per month minimum, so 250 (because that’s easy to purchase in boxes of 50). So, that’s what we are going with, although I know that some people with diabetes use more – and less – than that. We are not going with the bare minimum.
Here’s where it pays to shop around…
Wal-Mart is NOT always the least expensive when it comes to purchasing blood glucose monitors and blood glucose test strips – not by a long shot. Of course, prices always vary given the day, the website, the weather…. you get the drift. SHOP AROUND. (Click the link to be forwarded directly to the website that had the price listed.)
And don’t forget that there are certain meter companies that have “special savings programs“, even for those who have insurance!
Accu-Chek Aviva Plus Glucose Meter Kit = $9.97 or FREE.
(Remember, if you use the subscription based Accu-Chek To Program, you get a Aviva Plus Meter for free with your first shipment.)
Cost per month without Accu-Chek To program: $151.45
Cot per year without Accu-Chek To program: $1817.40
Cost per month with Accu-Chek To Program + regular purchase: $131.77
Cost per year with Accu-Chek To Program + regular purchase: $1581.24
(Remember, if you use the subscription based Accu-Chek To Program, you can purchase 50ct Accu-Check Aviva Plus Test strips for $20.00 and 100ct. for $40.00 per month.)
Accu-Chek Nano Glucose Meter = $5.07 of FREE
(Remember, if you use the subscription based Accu-Chek To Program, you get a Aviva Nano for free with your first shipment.)
(Remember, if you use the subscription based Accu-Chek To Program, you can purchase 50ct Accu-Check Aviva Smartview Test strips for $20.00 and 100ct. for $40.00 per month.)
Cost per month without Accu-Chek To program: $138.85
Cot per year without Accu-Chek To program: $1666.20
Cost per month with Accu-Chek To Program + regular purchase: $123.31
Cost per year with Accu-Chek To Program + regular purchase: $1479.72
Abbott FreeStyle Lite Test Strips – 50 ct. = $46.99
Total cost per month: $234.95
Total cost per year: $2819.40
Free Bayer Contour Next Meter – shipped by Bayer to you. $0.00
Free bayer Contour Next USB Meter – shipped by Bayer to you. $0.00
Wireless communication to Medtronic devices enables fast and easy bolus dosing and continuous glucose monitoring calibration
• Built-in USB cable has pass-through feature to allows for easy downloading to Medtronic’s convenient online CareLink® Personal software
(Bayer Contour Next Test Strips (box of 50 strips on Medtronic’s website) = $52.00 BUT THIS IS WHY YOU SHOP AROUND…)
Total cost per month: $99.95
Total cost per year: $1199.40
OneTouch Ultra 2 Glucose Meter Kit = $19.88
Total cost per month: $374.95
Total cost per year: $4499.40
OneTouch Verio IQ Glucose Meter Kit = $29.99
OneTouch Verio Sync System Kit = $29.99
Total cost per month: $454.45
Total cost per year: $5453.40
But We Aren’t Done Yet
If you’re on an intensive management plan, then you’re strongly encouraged to have a glucagon kit available in case you have a severe hypoglycemic reaction. This item isn’t cheap.
Glucagon Kit = $213.69
Some people with diabetes on intensive management plans (those who are on pumps, microbolusing with flex pens, and/or CGMs are considered intensive management therapies) often see an endocrinologist and other specialists. You might need to include these in your team:
- Ophthalmologist/Retinal Specialist
- Orthopedic specialist/surgeons
These specialist costs are higher than just seeing a regular general practitioner. Some by hundreds of dollars. The tests that may be prescribed can cost thousands of dollars out of pocket (say the word “nuclear stress test” and shudder when they tell you what it costs).
For reference, I see a retinal specialist for a dilated eye exam follow up every six months: $335.00 without insurance. My annual cardiologist visit is $430.00 without insurance for the (literally) five minutes I talk with him, including the pleasantries. One orthopedic surgeon office visit was $295 while the second opinion office visit with another surgeon was $180. As with everything else, shopping around if you have no insurance, especially when it’s diabetes related, is necessary.
Then there are the additional medications that might be needed: statins, blood pressure medications, medications for neuropathy, kidney disease, etc. These are too numerous to mention (and quantify), but you know that these are additional costs. Most people with diabetes wouldn’t be taking these medications if they didn’t have diabetes.
In a previous post, I mentioned the costs for treating mild hypoglycemia, for lancets and alcohol swabs, for the little things that all add up. The purchase of a juice/glucose-heavy item at a convenience store because you are low is a cost, but rarely factored in. Parking at hospitals for appointments. Tolls. Wear and tear on a vehicle as you travel to see various physicians to stay healthy. Batteries for the gear that isn’t rechargeable.
So, if you are truly calculating the costs of the latest supplies, technology, and treatments, there are items that you don’t even think about… the small ticket items that leech money from your pockets. They can add hundreds of dollars to the existing cost.
Let’s do some math.
If I am a T1 adult with no insurance who uses Humalog in a new Animas pump and a new CGM Dexcom, checking my blood glucose with a One Touch Verio IQ meter, it could be:
If you have already purchased a pump and a Dexcom, the out of pocket costs would be:
If I am a T1 adult with no insurance who uses Apidra in a new Omnipod and a new CGM Dexcom, checking my blood glucose with an Accu-Check Nano meter, it could be:
If you have already purchased a pump and a Dexcom, the out of pocket costs would be:
If I am a T1 adult with no insurance who uses Novolog in a new Medtronic (not 530G) pump and Sof-Sensor CGM, checking my blood glucose with a Bayer Next meter, it could be:
(The price would be greater with the 530G pump and the Enlite CGM sensors.)
If you have already purchased a Medtronic pump with CGM integration, the out of pocket costs would be:
That’s not counting the physicians (multiple visits), the labs, the other tests that you might need, the glucagon, the back up long-acting insulin, the small items, etc.
That’s just for the technology, supplies, and insulin analog.
Are You Getting What I’m Saying Here?
Without insurance, it is unlikely that you have thousands of dollars under a mattress for this type of intensive management. Even with insurance, many of these items can be cost-prohibitive, with deductibles to be met each year and percentages paid out each month to durable medical equipment companies and pharmacies.
This is not meant to shame medical device manufacturers and pharmaceutical companies. I’ve said before that they are not charities; they’re businesses and they can choose to set their prices and work with insurance companies for discounting.
Who loses in this scenario are those who want the technology but do not have an insurance company adept at bargaining or adept at meeting customer (that’s the subscriber) needs. Or those who don’t have insurance at all and fall into the gap of making too much to qualify for assistance programs but not enough to pay out of pocket for these items.
When someone asks a person with diabetes if it’s a hard disease to live with, they’re often asking about the physical aspects of the disease. Very few people outside of the community understand the financial burden many families face if they want what is the BEST technology and treatment for the person with diabetes.
Until there is a cure (be it biological or otherwise), this is the financial cost of living well with diabetes. Insurance companies can blunt some of the cost through their collective bargaining agreements, but we are still paying through premiums and deductibles and, in some scenarios, an inability to choose the medications or technology that they want, because of contracts.
There is no grand “THE END” to this post. For many people with diabetes, this is the reckoning that we do in our heads, wondering if we spend less now, will we pay more later? The answer is almost always… yes, but if we cannot even afford what the best treatments for diabetes on the market, how can we live long enough to get to that “later“?
I have no solutions. This is more of an academic exercise to see if what the statistics touted by the government on how much a person with diabetes pays for care was correct. It’s not.
People with diagnosed diabetes incur average medical expenditures of about $13,700 per year, of which about $7,900 is attributed to diabetes. People with diagnosed diabetes, on average, have medical expenditures approximately 2.3 times higher than what expenditures would be in the absence of diabetes. – NIH
We pay much more if we want excellent care. What can be done? Beyond a cure? I don’t know. Do you?