How to Cut the Cost of Diabetes Medication

The cost of diabetes medications can be pretty cheap, or it can be outrageously high.  Your cost depends on your insurance plan (or lack thereof) as well as what kind of medication your doctor prescribes for you.  If money’s tight, it’s worth taking a look at your current medication list.  You might be able to save a few dollars by switching things up.

If you have insurance, the cost of your diabetes medications depends on your formulary

A formulary is a list of medications that your insurance plan prefers.  You get rewarded for using those medications by paying less for them.  If you have health insurance or a Medicare Advantage plan, you most likely have a formulary.  You can save a great deal of money by using the medications on the formulary instead of those that are not.  Take your list of preferred medications with you each time you go to the doctor so that your doctor can choose from the lowest cost “Tier I” drugs whenever possible.

To save money on the cost of diabetes medication, maximize the dose of one medication before you add another one

Sometimes patients are taking less than the maximum dose of one diabetes medication before their physician adds a second diabetes medication.  That may be completely necessary in order to get your blood sugars where you want them, but then again, it may not.  For example, metformin is almost always the first drug prescribed for type 2 diabetes, and the maximum dose of metformin is 2500 mg per day.  Adding a second type of medication before you maximize your dose of metformin means you’re going to end up with two co-pays.

If your doctor recommends adding another medication to your diabetes regimen, ask them, “Am I already on the maximum dose of my current diabetes medications?”  If not, ask your doctor if they might consider trying the maximum dose first before adding a second medication.  Your cost for one medication will be lower than your cost for two.

Use combination drugs to lower the cost of diabetes medication

Diabetes medications come in a single form and in combination.  For example, metformin and Januvia each come as a single-drug medication.  They also come in a combination called Januvamet.  If your doctor were to prescribe them separately, you would pay two different copays, one for the metformin, and one for the Januvia.

If your doctor were to prescribe Januvamet (both medications in one pill), you would only have to pay one copay, saving you money.  As a bonus, you would also only have to remember to take one pill.

Ask for generic medications

Generic medications are cheaper, and that’s the bottom line.  Not to say it never happens, but I’ve been working in diabetes for more than twenty years, and I’ve never had a patient who had better blood sugars on a name-brand medication when compared to a generic.

Split pills to save on the cost of diabetes medication

Ask your doctor if it’s possible to prescribe a larger amount than you take at one time and use a pill splitter to divide your pills in half.  For example, you could split 1000 mg of metformin into 2-500 mg doses.  But…do not split pills for extended-release medications, including extended released metformin (Glucophage XR).  This will destroy the coating that makes the pill extended-release.

Get your medications at a Federally Qualified Health Center

A federally qualified health center (FQHC) is a non-profit organization that provides healthcare regardless of a person’s ability to pay.  FQHCs also participate in the government’s 340B discount drug program, which means that get medications at deeply discounted prices, and they pass those discounts on to their patients.  Use this link to find an FQHC.

Take advantage of Pharmaceutical Assistance Programs

There are a number of similar sites, so if you need help accessing medication, don’t hesitate to ask for assistance.

It takes work to save money on diabetes medications, but if the cost of your diabetes drugs is out of control, you owe it to yourself to find a solution you can afford.  Stressing out about how to pay for your medications will raise your blood sugar, and we definitely don’t want that.

Action Items:

  1. Take a look at how much money you spend on diabetes medications alone.  Is it reasonable, or is it out of control?

  2. Write down a list of questions for your doctor or pharmacist about your medications.  Maybe you want to ask if you’re taking the maximum dose or if any of your medications come in combination.

  3. If you don’t have health insurance, take a look at at least one of the pharmaceutical assistance programs above and see if you can find a better deal on your medications.

Julie Cunningham is a Registered Dietitian and Certified Diabetes Care & Education Specialist. She believes food is the foundation of good health, and that our culture of obsession about body size is damaging to health, happiness, and productivity in far too many people. When not talking or writing about food and health, she can be found in the the mountains of western NC, where she lives with her family and four legged friends.

Julie Cunningham

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