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.
HealthCentral published an earlier version of this article.