Stephanie is a Type 1 diabetic, living with the disease since 2003.
Diabetes Test Strips are the Most Expensive RX for Diabetics
I have been diabetic for nearly 10 years. I have Type 1 diabetes, which means that I am 100% insulin dependent and there is no "cure" for my disease, no matter how much I diet or exercise. An auto-immune reaction attacked the healthy beta cells in my pancreas, killing them off for good so that they will never make insulin again.
Because insulin is such a powerful drug, it is easy to overdose, causing life threatening hypoglycemia. Type 1 diabetics must calculate the amount of insulin to dose, based on a number of factors including: (1) how many carbohydrates will be ingested; (2) how long it has been since the last insulin shot; (3) activity level; and (4) stress level.
You might think that insulin would be the most expensive prescription for diabetics. Or perhaps glucose meters.
Nope. You can dose yourself and own a meter and lancet to poke your finger to measure blood sugar levels. However, without diabetes test strips, a diabetic cannot effectively manage this serious disease. Inexplicably, the test strips are the most expensive item that is required for diabetics to properly manage their disease.
I find this frustrating, to say the least. Not only because I am out-of-pocket additional funds (even with health insurance it runs me about $75 per month), but because my insurance company doubts my dedication to frequent testing to keep me healthy - and alive. Every time, I seek to refill my prescription, I get grief.
Why is this? Why are diabetes test strips so expensive?
Some People Sell Excess Diabetes Test Strips
I have been so frustrated with the expense of diabetes test strips. Then I realized that part of the reason is that people are selling excess test strips online.
That fact adversely impacts people like me who prefer to test their blood sugar frequently to best manage the disease. As a result of people selling test strips on the "black market," in part because insurance companies make them so expensive and difficult to obtain. I cannot help but think that if diabetes test strips were priced reasonably, there would not be a market for people to find cheap alternatives.
In the end, the only people that are hurt are those that try to closely monitor and treat their diabetes. Ironically, it is these patients that take better care of themselves, which results in fewer complications and expenses related to diabetes.
I do not Advise People Selling Excess Diabetes Test Strips
Why Diabetics Need Ample Test Strips
Even though insurance companies make it difficult to obtain a sufficient number of diabetes test strips, it seems that they have put the premium on the wrong product. Making blood sugar meters more expensive makes much more sense. After all, if diabetics properly monitor and treat their disease, there are fewer long term health costs.
For Type 1 (insulin dependent) diabetes, professionals recommend that the patient test before and 2 hours after each meal. This way, proper insulin dosing can be calculated and administered. If you test before a meal, you can determine whether your blood glucose levels are high, low, or normal. Then, adjustments can be made for dosing with respect to the food and/or drink you will be ingesting.
When you test 2 hours after eating, you can find out whether you gave yourself too much, or not enough, insulin and make an immediate correction. Some blood sugar meters have smart features whereby they will calculate the last bolus (shot) of insulin you took and determine the amount of active insulin remaining in your body.
My doctor has prescribed that I test my blood sugar 10-12 times a day. This allows me to test before and after each meal, plus at least 4 additional times every day when I exercise, before and after I drive some place, and to allow for errors in testing, which frequently occur.
The only problem is that my insurance initially only approved me for 3 test strips per day! In my opinion, that is the bare minimum for Type 2 diabetics who are not insulin dependent.
What is the Average Cost of Diabetes Test Strips?
Generally speaking, diabetes test strips cost about $1 each.
Depending on how often your doctor prescribes testing and your insurance policy, the monthly cost of diabetes test strips can range from $60-200. Over the course of a year, that adds up to $720-2,400, or even higher.
But get this surprising statistic from diabetesmine.com:
According to D-industry consultant David Kliff, the actual cost of manufacturing a test strip is only about 8 to 12 cents. But the R&D, logistics, quality testing and packaging costs jack up the price. Still, the vendors make about a 60-80% profit on each box, or possibly even higher, Kliff says. Yikes!
Who other than me is outraged?
Using Diabetes Test Strips
What can you do about the high cost of diabetes test strips?
Unfortunately, with insurance companies cutting down on the amount of benefits offered, the economy still floundering and people generally suspicious about legitimate medical claims, it is more difficult to get reimbursement for the cost of diabetes test strips.
The best thing you can do as a diabetic, or the friend/family member of one, is to ensure that minimal numbers of test strips are used on a daily basis. Of course, you do not wish to endanger yourself or the patient. However, testing smart can help save a few test strips each day.
Make sure that you obtain ample blood for a sugar test without an error message. Unless you feel very sick, test no more often than once per hour during times of extreme high and low blood sugar.
In addition, keep your doctor and loved ones fully informed about your current diabetic condition. If you believe that you are not testing frequently enough, advise your endocrinologist so that they can revise a prescription for you. Any time your exercise, eating habits, or weight changes, this may impact the amount of insulin required, which may warrant additional blood sugar testing.
People Looking for Excess Diabetes Test Strips
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.
© 2012 Stephanie Marshall
TDGold on May 28, 2014:
You can purchase 50 test strips for only $5.99 at TDnow.com. The meter is no code, small blood and fast time. You can purchase 500 strips for the price of 50 from some of the other companies. Also, product is distributed from the company, so you are not buying product on the black market.
Olga on October 29, 2013:
Dear folks with diabetes type 1 , how happy you are to discuss insurance issue alone. 33% of my family budget is spent on test strips only.
NancyZM on April 14, 2013:
My insurance allows a new meter every 2 years. When I got my last meter (Accu-chek Aviva), there was a card that was included in the package that stated I could get strips for $15/month. I activated my card and used it the next time I needed new strips. You need a prescription, but the pharmacy keys your card number into their computer. It worked! I don't know if there is a limit, but when I registered with Accu-chek, I was asked how many times I test per day. You don't need insurance for this. I told a woman without insurance about this plan, and she also got her test strips for $15. Other companies (One Touch?) may have similar plans. Good luck!
supplier on February 21, 2013:
"60-80% profit on each box, or possibly even higher, Kliff says. Yikes!"
Totally not a true statement! Profit margin is less than 10% before I pay my employees and light bill. Thanks
Susan Bailey from South Yorkshire, UK on February 11, 2013:
Hi, in some parts of the UK we get diabetic strips free on prescription. I know of people who sell them on EBay. Of course this is illegal but when they are so expensive you can't blame people for trying to get hold of them cheaply. Its the people selling what they got for free who are in the wrong.
Stephanie Marshall (author) from Bend, Oregon on December 08, 2012:
Unbelievable. And I still have issues with my insurance covering more than 3 strips per day for my insulin-dependent diabetes. Have you heard about the eye scans - sounds like an infrared beam advanced. Yet, it will be years before its approved or available. And then what will that cost? What a racket!
vern11 on December 08, 2012:
Strips cost 2/10 - 8/10 of a cent to make, medicare pays 80 cents. There was a infrared beam meter in the 80's, but it was buried by the the competition; there was no residual money with this new device - no strips, no blood. It was called the Dream Beam.
Dragan on August 05, 2012:
Its funny how ppl on madicare get test strips for free and we who have insurance we have to pay 30 to 50 for 50 strips it's shame
Stephanie Marshall (author) from Bend, Oregon on July 30, 2012:
Thanks Teaches - I was very surprised too. Especially when the insurance company did not agree to pay for enough diabetes test strips for me to stay healthy! Thanks for the comment, Steph
Dianna Mendez on July 30, 2012:
My hubby had to check his blood sugar for awhile and it was a real shock to discover how expensive the strips were. Our insurance covered a portion of the cost, but it was still an expense. I sympathize with those who have to use these long term. It is hard enough having to deal with the disease let along the cost of maintaining good health.
Stephanie Marshall (author) from Bend, Oregon on July 29, 2012:
Thanks Nell - yes, our system is a mess over here, and I'm not sure that new medical insurance legislation will fix this type of issue. Appreciate the comment! Best, Steph
Nell Rose from England on July 29, 2012:
Thats awful to think that the test strips cost that much money! I am not sure how much they would be over here, but I do know that if you are not working then you would get them free. Because we have the National Health, so its easy to get these medical things over here. I can't believe that they think you should only use them three times a day? wow! sorry to hear this, nell
Bob Bamberg on July 29, 2012:
I've been a Type II diabetic for 5 years and have always wondered why the test strips are so expensive. Thanks for such an informative hub. I think people who buy black market strips are playing fast and loose with their health.
You don't know under what conditions they were maintained. The literature cautions you to close the vial of strips immediately after taking one out, for instance, and one wouldn't know if that was done with someone's excess strips. Exposure to air apparently effects the performance of the strip.
I had a One Touch Ultra, but it required coding and I was finding that the test solution was expensive and had a relatively short life span. I only have to test a couple of times a day, so I wasn't going through the strips as fast.
For a while, I was on a health plan that allowed me to get Rx filled 3 months at a time, so I actually built up an excess of strips. Well, I finally opened my last vial of strips recently and didn't want to have to buy another bottle of test solution, so I checked with the pharmacist to see if there was a meter that didn't require coding and that my insurance covered. I am now on Medicare and have prescription coverage through Humana.
It turns out I could get a FreeStyle Lite meter for a $3 and change co-pay, so my Dr. wrote the Rx. He also wrote for 100 strips and those cost me a co-pay of $17 and change.
My One Touch strips, when I got them for 3 mos at a time through CVS CareMark, cost around $60 for 100 strips, as I remember it (it's been over a year since I had to buy strips). Had I bought them a month at a time at my local pharmacy, it would have been around $40 a month for strips.
I do like the FreeStyle meter. Like the TV ads say, it requires just a speck of blood. I still stick my fingertips (I've read that readings of blood from other sites may not be as accurate) but now I don't even feel it. Best wishes to everyone struggling with this awful disease.
Stephanie Marshall (author) from Bend, Oregon on July 28, 2012:
That's interesting, dahoglund! I have seen those commercials about test strips being covered by Medicare. Take good care, Steph
Don A. Hoglund from Wisconsin Rapids on July 28, 2012:
I'm a type 2 diabetic and test twice a day. Since I am on medicare my test strips are paid by medicare. In Illinois, where i lived prior to age 62, I found that the state had mandated insurance companies there to cover diabetic supplies. For some reason with medicare it is necessary to get the test strips through certain companies which you see advvertised all the time.
Stephanie Marshall (author) from Bend, Oregon on July 28, 2012:
Thanks you guys! So glad to hear that others are as frustrated as I am. The inspiration to write a hub just struck me last night as I was fuming about my own insurance company's issues with approving diabetes test strips.
I appreciate all the comments and loyal readers (Bill!) All the best, Steph
Linda Crist from Central Virginia on July 28, 2012:
What a great hub! I am just as frustrated and angry over the cost of test strips as you. I am a Type II, diagnosed when I was 54 years old. I have private insurance with Anthem at the cost of $630 a month and they will only allow me to get one vial (25 strips) at a time. The killer is that they will allow me to get 3 months of meds at a time but not test strips. What does this say? They would rather keep me on the meds than allow me to manage my sugars with diet and exercise? That's my theory.
Thank you for bringing this issue to hubpages.
Barbara Badder from USA on July 28, 2012:
This was informative. Thank goodness, I am just borderline diabetic and don't need to test so often.
Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on July 28, 2012:
Fascinating....interesting....well-documented...easy to understand....you pretty much did an excellent job with this one. Thank you for educating and keeping this deadly disease in the fore-front so that others might learn.
ncma789 from North Carolina on July 28, 2012:
I have type I diabetes, I have had it for 29 years. I use to pay for my strips, but now I do not. I do test 4 times a day and I am insulin dependent also. I was contacted by a company called Sure Point Medical. They contacted my insurance company and they are shipped to me automatically every 3 months. Strips and Lancets. Every once in a while they will call me and want to send me a new meter. They told me that the meter should be replaced every 3 years. My Insurance is through Blue Cross Blue Shield. I understand how all of you feel. Liberty Medical also provides free supplies. I am only 48 years old. So it is not because I am a senior citizen. There are programs out there. I just lucked up and they called me one Saturday. So please, please... do not go without your medications or supplies. If you like, you can contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I will be more than happy to give you some other leads.
Stephanie Marshall (author) from Bend, Oregon on July 28, 2012:
Thanks everyone! It is a total racket by the drug companies, in my opinion. They hand out "free meters" and then charge and arm and a leg to actually use them. I believe that the astronomical price for the diabetes test strips has created a "black market" for people that have (or have obtained) extra strips and looking to sell them to those that cannot otherwise afford to take care of their health.
I just went to pick up my diabetes test strip prescription and was denied, even though nothing has changed. The poor pharmacist has to call the insurance company again to determine why they will not pay for me to test 6-8 times per day. Perhaps they would just prefer that I suffer major complications and end up in the hospital? Grrr....
Margaret Perrottet from San Antonio, FL on July 28, 2012:
My husband is a type II diabetic, and fortunately Medicare covers the cost of test strips. He tests about 5-6 times a day. They are incredibly expensive. I recently wrote a hub on the possibility of generic (biosimilar) insulin coming out, and was amazed at the fact that a diabetic will pay over twice the amount in health care costs as someone without. The cost of insulin and the cost of test strips should be brought way down. Anyhow, good hub - voted up, interesting and useful!
kelleyward on July 28, 2012:
I also test 12-14 times a day. I pay $150 for strips a month after my insurance pays. I agree that strips should be so expensive. I use free style light because that's the free pump I was given after I was diagnosed. I guess I could look at others to compare prices but for me my health is worth all the extra blood sugar checks. Voted up, useful, and shared. Kelley
KenWu from Malaysia on July 28, 2012:
I learned how expensive diabetes strips are when my sis in law cat suffers from diabetes. Yeap, I was shocked when told about the cost.
Joshua Zerbini from Pennsylvania on July 28, 2012:
Very important topic and informative hub for sure! My mom has the same type of diabetes and hates how expensive the strips are! I will defitnitely be sharing the tips you provided at the end with my mother; thanks for sharing Steph!
Melanie Palen from Midwest, USA on July 27, 2012:
I'm not diabetic, but I did have a really high spike in blood sugar one day a few years ago. My doctor had me get a meter and strips. Since I wasn't diabetic and it was only a precaution, it wasn't covered under insurance.
The meter was crazy cheap, something like $20 or $30, but I remember paying $80 for a thing of test strips. It was seriously ridiculous.
I dated a diabetic, insulin dependent and I can tell you, just from watching him, that three measly test strips are nothing. That'll get you through lunch. You've got breakfast, lunch, dinner, and any sort of "I'm not feeling right, maybe I should check my blood sugar" which happens a LOT. Or even if you messed up a strip (not putting enough blood on it) which I did a LOT. Or if you're like, "255!?!? That can't be right. I haven't even eaten yet!"
You'd think an insurance company would be really wanting to cover the test strips, so they reduce the likelihood of having to cover complications down the road.
Awesome hub on a super important topic.