Type 1Diabetes + No Insurance? How Little Can You Pay To Live?


You are an adult with T1 diabetes living in the United States. You have no health insurance – or worse, health insurance with such a high deductible that everything you need is out of your own pocket. This is today’s reality for so many people.

Want to know how much having diabetes and paying out of pocket will cost? How little you can pay? Read on…

Ground Rules

This is the bare minimum standard of care, which means I’m not trying to NOT use test strips or avoid tests or health care visits.

When I say “bare minimum”, it means that there are no insulin pumps, no continuous glucose monitors, no conveniences, no latest on the market medications, and forget the latest insulin analogues. The insulin you’ll be using is the same formulation that I started with in 1983 – Regular and NPH (except you get recombinant DNA and I got a mix of beef and pork). 

You should take this as a “If I am to follow what the ADA says I need to do at the very least, this is how much it would cost me for my diabetes.”

This does NOT take into consideration if you have to see additional health care professionals or have additional tests if it’s been determined that you have complications.

I am using the American Diabetes Association’s Standards of Care 2014 as the guiding document.

Most of the items listed can be purchased at Wal-Mart. Why Wal-Mart? Because ReliOn items, sold at Wal-Mart, are the cheapest on the market. I can’t vouch for their accuracy, efficacy, or their overall comfort and convenience. With the exception of the ReliOn glucose tabs that I purchased in an emergency once, I’ve never used these items. But here goes…


PR-052_1280x580The least expensive insulin that you can purchase in the United States is at Wal-Mart. Remember that these particular insulins are not the latest or fastest insulins on the market. You will need to work with your health care professional to create your dosage plan, because if you are switching from different insulins (Humalog, Novalog, or Apridra for fast-acting or Lantus, Levemir for slower-acting/basal insulins) your dosage, timing, and when these drugs peak will be completely different.

The ReliOn brand insulin is manufactured by NovoNordisk, just so you know.

That being said, once your have your dosage, let’s pretend calculate:

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. As there are 1,000 units per vial, you’ll need at a minimum 2 vials per month.

  • $24.88 ReliOn®/Novolin® Human Insulin N
  • $24.88 ReliOn®/Novolin® Human Insulin R
  • $24.88 ReliOn®/Novolin® Human Insulin 70/30

Total cost per month: $49.76 

Total cost per year: $597.12


PR-038_1280x580You have insulin, but you need the vehicle to get the insulin into you: syringes.

  • $12.58 ReliOn Insulin Syringes (100 syringes in each box)

If you use the ReliOn insulin, you’ll most likely take two shots per day (minimum, remember?), so that’s 60 syringes per month. You can only buy them a box at a time.

Total cost per month: $12.58

Total cost per year: $100.64 (8 boxes, for 720 syringes each year, hoping that every single one works properly)

Blood Glucose Monitoring

You need 1 meter. Here you go:

Total cost (let’s just call it per year, OK?): $16.24

Now, this is where it begins to get tricky. You need strips and lancets.

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.”

That is waaayyyy more than 6 times per day, but I’m going with the bare minimum.

So,  6x/day = 180 strips per month. Wal-Mart sells their ReliOn strips in counts of 50, so you’ll need 4 boxes per month.

Total cost per month: $36.00

Total cost per year: $432.00

Now, you have to have a lancing device to get that blood.

Total cost per year: $5.84 

0007874202646_180X180.jpg-5678a538e37caabcaab7cedf6058410c726dc3e5-optim-180x180You are supposed to use a new, sterile lancet for each blood glucose check. (Ahem.) Following the guidelines, it would be 6 new lancets each day for a total of 180 lancets per month. Buy the bigger box and you’ll save a penny per lancet.

Total cost per month: $5.84

Total cost per year: $64.24 ( you only have to buy 11 boxes if you buy the larger box each month). 

Miscellaneous Supplies:

You hope that you’ll never be sick, under stress, or have a blood glucose over 240 mg/dl, because then you could possibly have ketones. But you need to have the ketone strips on hand, just in case. These do expire, so at a minimum, you’ll need one vial of these per year.

Total Cost per year: $6.64

If you are following the guidelines, you’ll need to use an alcohol swab for every time you use a syringe or a lancet.

  • $3.74 ReliOn Alcohol Swabs, 400ct

You’ll use a whopping 2,920 of these each year. Minimum.

Total Cost per year: $29.92

Hypoglycemia? According to Diabetes Care:

Individuals with type 1 diabetes average 43 symptomatic episodes annually; insulin-treated individuals… As for severe hypoglycemic episodes, patients with type 1 diabetes experience up to two episodes annually…The risk increases with a history of hypoglycemia and an increased number of years of insulin treatment.

So, figure on one hypo per week. (You and I both know there are more, but again, we’re bare boning this.)

Hypoglycemia treatment options? Well, you could use glucose tabs or gels; they are the most effective in treating hypoglycemia. Still need something, so you can purchase juice or candy that can treat hypoglycemic reactions for less, but won’t be as effective or as portable or convenient.

  • $3.98 50 ct. ReliOn Glucose Tablets (with an average of 4 tablets for each episode, but you may have to buy something on the fly so this cost may be higher)

Total cost per month (average): $3.98

Total cost per year (average): $47.76 (not counting extra items purchased if you don’t care the glucose tabs with you at all times)

 Lab Tests/Vaccines

Standard of Care states:

Type 1s should have their A1C tested twice per year if you are under 7.0% and quarterly if not meeting goals. The least expensive option is… yes, you guessed it: Wal-Mart.

  • $8.98 ReliOn A1c Test – must mail test to lab to get results.

Total Cost per year: $17.96 – $35.92

Influenza vaccine annually (remember, this is Standard of Care recommendations) You can try and get a free one at a health fair or county health department

Total Cost per year: free to $25.00, depending on where you go without insurance.

Now, often you’ll have to see a health care provider to get this test, but there are some places that you can walk in and get this done without insurance or a prescription. I chose Any Lab Test Now for pricing (obviously this can vary around the country).

Fasting lipid panel annually, regardless of history. If you’re on a statin, then more frequently.

Total Cost per year: $49.00 (minimum) 

Microalbumin test to measure albumin excretion (levels will determine your kidney function)

Total Cost per year: $49.00 (minimum)

Health Care Visits

797188_84253664One visit (minimum) to a health care provider to do physical exams, etc. If there is any evidence of complications or comorbidity, additional visits may be requested.

Total cost per year for a single non-specialist: $95 to $215 (depending on location, according to this 2014 article)

One visit (minimum) for a dilated comprehensive eye exam. (This cost referenced is for a standard eye exam. It may be more based on dilation.) Remember if the health care provider finds evidence of retinopathy, additional visits, treatment, and tests will be needed.

Total cost per year for an eye exam: $50 to $114 (depending on location, according to this website)



This is the bare minimum cost annually without insurance (or out of pocket if you have horrible insurance options, not counting the amount you are paying for premiums), if you are not eligible to use free services or patient assistance programs.

Remember The Ground Rules

This amount assumes you are not using an insulin pump, a CGM, any brand name products besides ReliOn, the latest analogues or medications, or using any resources that may cost extra. You are essentially using the same technology that I started with over 30 years ago when I became Type 1, except the blood glucose testing is less expensive and results are faster.

That amount assumes that you are eating a healthy diet (oh, wait… it costs more to eat healthy, so factor that in…).

That amount assumes you are without ANY complications from diabetes or have ANY comorbidities.

That amount assumes you do not take a statin or an ACE inhibitor (recommended by ADA for many patients).

That amount assumes you do not take ANY other medications – or gosh, need a Glucagon Low Blood Sugar Emergency Kit.

That amount assumes you do not have periodontal disease, heart disease, depression, hypothyroidism (which is the most common autoimmune disorder associated with T1 – up to 30% of us have it), kidney disease, neuropathy, frozen shoulder or trigger fingers, foot issues…

That amount assumes you will not be admitted to the ER, the hospital, need specialists (nephrologists, podiatrists, orthopedists, ophthalmologists, cardiologists, gastroenterologists) or have to take time off of work due to diabetes.

If you do need assistance, there are resources available for U.S. individuals with diabetes that meet certain criteria.  

Are you getting what I’m saying here?

607166_81443036If those assumptions are wrong (and most of the time, they are) there are additional thousands of dollars to be spent out of pocket. You can’t get those services at Wal-Mart prices.

This is not a blueprint for how to manage your diabetes.

This is showing you the cheapest, but often substandard treatments, for diabetes. How many people with diabetes must make decisions that impact our life due to the cost of living with this disease? TOO MANY.

I haven’t even started on the emotional cost. The psychological cost. The cost on families, coworkers, employers, friends…

It’s not how little we can pay…

I’ve figured that out: $1561.36 per year, give or take thousands of dollars.

It’s about how much we can’t afford to lose, which is much, much more.