How to Better Manage Diabetes – and Save Money Doing It

Not everything that’s healthier costs more. In fact, doing what’s best for one’s well-being and quality of life is sometimes less expensive than being unhealthy.

Take riding your bike to work, for example – if that’s something you’re able to do. Or while it can sometimes cost more to buy produce than processed foods, preparing healthy home cooked meals (with plenty of veggies) is typically more economical and better for you than eating out.

In the same way, while managing a chronic condition like diabetes certainly isn’t free, experts say there are ways to go about it that can both simultaneously improve a person’s quality of life and lessen the impact on their budget.

One recent study found, in fact, that tailoring blood-sugar control to the individual could save more than $13,500 per patient over a lifetime, primarily due to lower medication costs. “Health policies and clinical programs that encourage an individualized approach to glycemic control for U.S. adults with type 2 diabetes reduce costs and increase quality of life compared with uniform intensive control,” the researchers concluded in the study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine in December.

The researchers noted that more study is needed to confirm the risks as well as the benefits of the strategy, which involves adjusting blood-sugar control goals to the individual patient. But it holds promise as a way to reduce the number of medications patients take, in many instances (though more aggressive control and medications would be recommended in some cases). And the research also found a reduction in hypoglycemic, or low-blood sugar, events – though the model used in the research to estimate outcomes projected that lifespan for these patients would be slightly shorter – by about a tenth of a year (or a little over a month) due to disease complications. Still, “In the end, you save a lot of money … and you would improve quality of life,” says lead study author Dr. Neda Laiteerapong, an assistant professor of general internal medicine at the Center for Chronic Disease Research and Policy at the University of Chicago.

What’s more, when it comes to getting a handle on the chronic condition and costs associated with it, you don’t have to break the mold on current diabetes management strategies to do both.

Take diet, for instance. Unhealthy ingredients tend to feature prominently in all sorts of convenience foods. That includes copious amounts of sugar – and salt. “Most Americans, and most people with diabetes, need to limit their sodium intake,” says Matt Petersen, managing director of medical information at the American Diabetes Association; and you’re highly likely to get too much of the white stuff (either one) from eating out or buying processed foods at the store. By contrast, “it’s easier to control and know for sure the components of your diet if you’re making it yourself,” Petersen says. “And it’s less expensive.”

Of course, that doesn’t mean you need to set up a live-Tweet-worthy, cooking show-level experience in your kitchen. Nor do you have to be forever hunched over a stove or slicing and dicing day in and day out (and to the contrary cooking can certainly be enjoyable, and even meditative).

Instead, as in so many areas of managing diabetes – and associated costs – planning ahead makes all the difference, points out Jamie McCarthy, a diabetes nurse educator at Joslin Diabetes Center in Boston.

“We absolutely recommend meal planning and prepping as a great way to save money,” she says. Set aside time for meal prep on the weekend – maybe Sunday afternoon or evening – to get ready for the week, like making food for lunches you’ll have at work. “So you’re making good food, which makes you have better control during the week,” McCarthy says, and she adds you’re not spending money on extra calories and foods that probably aren’t going to benefit you in the long run. “We always recommend batch cooking as the best way to do that,” and have healthy snacks you can grab and go to avoid hasty food decisions during that afternoon lull that undermine the best laid dietary plan.

McCarthy suggests the same principle of preparing in advance for medications as well. “We would definitely recommend, as a way to save money, ordering medications to control blood sugar for up to three months at a time – maybe getting 90-day supplies,” McCarthy says. “That’s going to help you and keep you on track so that your control’s a little bit better, and also you’re saving money.”

Of course, purchasing generics – where available and appropriate – can also save money without compromising care. If you need medication, as most people with diabetes do, cost can vary considerably, Petersen says. So it’s important to talk with your health provider about inexpensive or affordable options that work well for you, along with checking to see what your health plan will cover, and the associated copays.

“Between less expensive medications, less expensive monitoring, and then healthier eating and free physical activity … all of the points that you need to touch on to manage diabetes effectively can be done at higher cost levels or lower cost levels,” Petersen says. “You can do very well at a fraction of the cost – if the person with diabetes and their doctor are paying attention to that.”

Allowing time to make purchases also means you have more opportunity to take advantage of other money-saving strategies, such as those the Joslin Diabetes Center suggests, like accessing pharmacy coupons and rebates and even free samples of prescriptions and diabetes care supplies offered by doctors, diabetes educators and supply companies. Just be sure to take a pass on samples you don’t need, since of course, freebies are frequently offered to entice future purchases.

That same less-is-more approach is relevant to determining what diabetes care supplies you, personally, do – and don’t – need. Experts say the important thing is not to get diabetes care supplies, from blood glucose testing meters to insulin analogs (for those who require insulin), without first determining with your doctor if they’re needed to properly manage the disease. The latest supply – like the latest medication – isn’t a guarantee of a better outcome.

The same could be said for running or walking and doing other exercises on your own, which can be just as much of a boon to your fitness as purchasing a gym membership – and more cost-effective. If, though, you really use that membership and see results, or in the case of a diabetes care supply – if it actually helps improve your management of the disease – then experts say it’s probably well worth it.

Best Hospitals for Diabetes & Endocrinology




Mayo Clinic
Rochester, MN
Massachusetts General Hospital
Boston, MA
Cleveland Clinic
Cleveland, OH
Johns Hopkins Hospital
Baltimore, MD
New York-Presbyterian Hospital
New York, NY
University of Colorado Hospital
Aurora, CO
UCSF Medical Center
San Francisco, CA
Hospitals of the University of Pennsylvania-Penn Presbyterian
Philadelphia, PA
UPMC Presbyterian Shadyside
Pittsburgh, PA
Stanford Health Care-Stanford Hospital
Stanford, CA

Hospital Ranking information as of January 12th, 2018

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