Diabetes Basics

Cutting the Cost of Diabetes

The experts tell us that diabetes is the most expensive disease we can get. But it can be the cheapest.

The costs are not just the oral medications and insulin, the blood glucose meters and test strips, and the visits to the doctors. But the financial drain can also include income lost from missing work. And the biggest costs have to be the poorer quality of life that so many of the complications of diabetes can bring in their wake.

So then how can I write that we could be so lucky as to have a disease that costs us practically nothing?

Most of the answer is in the article “Diabetes Causes Nothing” that I wrote here a couple of years ago. Diabetes does not cause any of the complications associated with the disease. Poor management of diabetes causes them. We have nothing to fear from the debilitating and costly complications that unmanaged diabetes can bring.

Having diabetes doesn’t mean we will have more sick days. In fact, many people who manage their diabetes well tell me that they are healthier now than before some doctor told them they have diabetes. When they started to manage their diabetes, they found that the side effects of losing weight, eating better, and being more active improved their health so much that they missed a lot less work.

But the diabetes medications are still expensive, particularly for people who don’t have a job that provides health insurance. This assumes, of course, that you have to take diabetes medications. Anyone who has type 1 diabetes does have to take insulin. But 90 to 95 percent of those of us who have diabetes are type 2s, and for us we have an option.

I’ve had type 2 diabetes for two decades, and I took many different diabetes drugs until five or six years ago. I stopped the drugs because I wanted to avoid the possibility of any bad side effects and not because I wanted to save money. But in fact I did cut my costs, even the cost of my health insurance policy. Because I now take only one prescription drug (Synthroid for hypothyroidism) and am in such good health in spite of my 78 years (as of yesterday), I was able to switch to a less expensive policy that my health insurer offers.

The only way that I know how to manage diabetes without drugs is to severely limit the amount of carbohydrates in our diet to no more than about 50 grams per day. I’ve been doing that myself since 2007 and find that as the years go by this gets easier and more effective.

But I had to invest in more expensive food. Anyone who follows a low-carb diet will have to spend more upfront on quality fats and protein than people who subsist on the cheap starch in grains, like wheat, and tubers, like potatoes. Even here, however, the cost doesn’t have to be high when we chose less expensive fish and meat. I wrote more about this strategy last year in “Managing Diabetes on a Budget.”

I call this an investment in my health. The few dollars that I spend now will save me thousands of dollars in expenses later.

We also have to continue checking our blood glucose level. The big expensive for me is $10 or $15 each month for a home A1C test. Most people check their A1C level only every three months or so, but I find that more frequent checking helps me to keep my level low. It’s the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle at work in the positive way, where you can’t measure anything without changing it.

This is really all there is to cutting the cost of diabetes. Last year I thought that my next book would be “Managing Diabetes on a Budget” and even bought a website for it. But you don’t need anything more to begin saving money.

This article is based on an earlier version of my article published by HealthCentral.

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  • Reply Edward Kenworthy October 17, 2013 at 10:49 am

    Okay, that makes sense, thank you.

  • Reply Edward Kenworthy October 16, 2013 at 12:08 pm

    I’m curious about your statement that you ” find that more frequent checking helps me to keep my level low”, if that’s the case (and it certainly is for me) why only a once a month HbA1c, rather than more regular post-prandial bg tests?

    • Reply David Mendosa October 16, 2013 at 1:53 pm

      Dear Edward,

      Almost everyone who has diabetes has to check their blood glucose levels both after meals daily and every month or so with the A1C test. But if you are in the very small minority of us who keep our levels in very tight control by following a very low-carb diet, your post-prandial levels will change only minimally. However, over time, as I gain more control or slack off, I see how I am doing with A1C testing.

  • Reply lilline October 13, 2013 at 8:29 pm

    wow, I loved reading this article, so when did you decide it was ok for you to get off the drugs, when you had a steady level in the 80’s or when you took that at home GLUCOSE TEST and found you were below 7. I have never been told about it by no one not the doctor what was involved never opened his mouth to inform me I heard the dietian say a special test will be when you have been on METFORMIN for 3 months but she did not say what was involved. So as we stay on the METFORMIN they say 12 weeks is when you see it going down more, I had two readings in a row last week, one was 101 and next was 100 this is 2 hours after eating two different meals they have been my lowest. I did not know it but I would prick my finger and not enough blood came out and i used the same lancet on other days not those up there, then it dawned on me STUPID you got to change the needle that really made a difference. NO ONE INFORMED ME about that too. Why dont they educate a NEWBIE correctly I live and learn and found lots of answers reading about diabetic websites. I did not even know what the NORMAL readings were I WAS NOT INFORMED my doctor like I told you before NEVER TOLD ME NOTHING, all he ever talked about was INSULIN he has insulin on his brain and very condescending towards me. So this is where I am getting my education, I was not even informed about wearing a necklace or bracelet being diabetic, it like both of them do not care about me at all. I got cancer so who cares, that is how I look at these two incompetent medical people. THEY SHOULD BE FIRED.

    • Reply David Mendosa October 14, 2013 at 10:24 am

      Dear Lilline,

      Interesting question. I had to look up the answer in my medical records. When I stopped using any diabetes drugs in 2007, my A1C level was about 5.5 from taking Byetta. Since then, it has always stayed very near that level without drugs — and without a lot of carbohydrates.



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