The high price of medicines and supplies weighs heavily on people with diabetes. The burden can be overwhelming when you use several medicines. Here’s how you can lighten the load.

  • When you need an over-the-counter medicine, consider a generic instead of the name brand. Generic versions contain the same active agents but cost less. To find generic versions of a name-brand product, compare ingredient labels. Look for the same active ingredient in the same strength. Your pharmacist can help.

  • Keep receipts for medical expenses, including prescription costs your insurance doesn’t cover. When these are large relative to your income, some can be deducted from your income taxes.

  • Scan drugstore ads for coupons.

  • Check out your insurance coverage. Some health plans cover medicines. Some let you order prescriptions by mail for a reduced co-payment. If you order insulin through the mail, be sure it will be protected from getting too hot or too cold.

  • Call several pharmacies to find out which one is cheapest for all your medicines put together. (For safety’s sake, buy all of your medicines at one place.) If you can, check prices at online pharmacies, too.

  • Limit your use of supplements and herbs to those your provider recommends. Few have been proven to have any benefit. Yet they can cost as much as—or more than—medicines proven to be safe and to work.

Your diabetes team can help if you let them know you are concerned about costs.

  • Ask whether adopting good health habits could cut your prescription costs. For example, exercising, quitting smoking, and limiting salt are cheaper than buying medicines to treat high blood pressure.

  • Don’t pressure your doctor for medicines you see in TV ads. New and heavily advertised products often cost the most.

  • On the other hand, new medicines can sometimes save you money. For example, you may be taking products B and C to treat side effects of product A. If you switch from product A to new product D with milder side effects, you might be able to stop using products B and C.

  • When your health care provider suggests a new medicine, ask whether there’s a cheaper alternative. Providers don’t always take cost into account when choosing treatments.

  • Tell your provider or pharmacist you’d like to use generic medicines whenever possible.

  • Check whether your insurance company has a formulary (a list of preferred products with reduced co-payments). If so, give a copy to your provider.

  • Each year, review all of your medicines with your provider. Some you may no longer need. Others may now be available in cheaper generic or over-the-counter versions.

  • When starting a new medicine, ask for free samples. That way, if the side effects are bad or the product doesn’t work well for you, you haven’t bought an entire bottle.

  • Check with your local pharmacies to see whether any offer a senior discount card.

  • If your grocery or drugstore gives seniors a discount on a certain day, buy your over-the-counter products that day.

  • The American Association of Retired Persons has a pharmacy service. You can get medicines and vitamins at a discount at local pharmacies or by mail.

Programs for people with low incomes vary. Ask your diabetes team what your area has. If they don’t know, talk to a social worker or your local public health or social services department.

  • Some drug companies have “pharmacy assistance programs.” These provide medicines for free or at a reduced price to people with low incomes.

  • Some cities have free clinics or public health clinics.

  • Some states have special programs to help people afford their prescriptions. These are often for low-income elderly or disabled people.

Shauna S. Roberts, PhD, is a science and medical writer in New Orleans, La.

Permission is granted to reproduce this material for nonprofit educational purposes. Written permission is required for all other purposes. 11/02