Testing your blood sugar regularly is the key to good diabetes control, but testing can get expensive. Ease the stress of managing your diabetes with these practical tips that can stretch your dollars while keeping you on track.
Shop around, but steer clear of suspect sources.
Online resources such as eBay and Craigslist sometimes offer tough-to-beat prices from people reselling test strips.
"I was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes about six months ago. I bought my meter and strips at a drugstore right after but was shocked when the test strips cost $49.99 for a box of 50! Once those ran out, I got on eBay and looked for the exact same brand. I found them easily and have now bought two shipments of the same name-brand strips for just over $25, which includes shipping. It's a no-brainer to save $25," says Rich Mullikin of Galveston, Texas.
However, most experts advise against buying test strips online because it's a gamble. In most cases, it's hard to know where the strips came from, how they were transported and stored, and whether the strips are defective or expired, says Eileen Wood, R.Ph., vice president of pharmacy services for Capital District Physicians' Health Plan in Albany, New York. Counterfeit strips that produce highly erratic results have even been found. On eBay, some sellers list an expiration date -- but not all do -- and some don't allow returns.
"These practices are questionable," Wood says. "I'd feel more comfortable getting test strips from a pharmacy because it has to prove where they got the products, and there is oversight from state and federal licensing authorities."
Test strip makers and distributors are required to register with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, but private sellers are not.
Most off-brand strips are as accurate as their brand-name counterparts, and they cost less. A box of 50 test strips for Wal-Mart's ReliOn Prime meter costs $9, and the meter sells for $16. The retail price for 50 strips from one large pharmaceutical company is around $60.
If you opt for off-brand strips designed to be used with a brand-name meter, be sure the strips are compatible with your meter before you buy them. Technology changes quickly, so check the box carefully every time. You can test an off-brand strip's accuracy by also checking your blood with a brand-name strip for a few days and comparing results. Also read the product reviews consumers leave on shopping websites such as amazon.com, walmart.com, and target.com.
Use your insurance company's preferred brand.
Most companies designate specific brands they'll cover if you get a prescription from your provider. Contact your insurance company to find out which brand or brands are preferred.
Medicare covers strips but sets limits, allowing people using insulin up to 100 test strips a month (an average of three tests a day). Those who don't take insulin are allowed 100 test strips every three months (an average of one test a day).
Get with the program.
Leading brand-name companies offer savings for loyal users of their products. Many meter companies provide prescription copay cards that can limit your out-of-pocket expense to $15-$20, says Tami Ross, RD, CDE, a diabetes educator in Lexington, Kentucky, president of the American Association of Diabetes Educators, and coauthor of What Do I Eat Now?: A Step-by-Step Guide to Eating Right with Type 2 Diabetes (American Diabetes Association, 2009). "The card basically allows for prenegotiated discounts. My patients find this a huge help."
The discount copay cards may be available through your health care provider or on the Internet through test strip manufacturers. Bayer's Contour CHOICE program can save customers up to $35 a month on their copay (after an initial copay of $15) for strips that work with a Bayer meter. The Partnership for Prescription Assistance (pparx.org) finds manufacturer and government programs for people who can't afford supplies.