The real cost of diabetes

By: Tyler McAnany

Blacksburg, Va., Jan. 24 – An overwhelming supply: A look at all of the different things that go into daily and weekly diabetes management. Photograph: Tyler McAnany

The American Diabetes Association (ADA) estimates that people with diabetes are spending $9,601 more on yearly medical expenses than those without the condition. Between inflating insulin costs, medically excused work leave, hospital trips and increased susceptibility to illnesses, people with diabetes are being forced to pay a price that goes beyond the effects of their already complicated disease. 

Clayton Pfeiffer, a type one diabetic, has experienced this first-hand since the age of six. “There have been stories of people not being able to pay and I have also heard stories about people rationing their insulin which is not healthy.” 

While Pfeiffer does mention there are insurance plans that help such as an 80-20 insurance split cost (80% covered and 20% out of pocket), it does not change the fact that costs continue to rise and apply more pressure to families. 

Modern-day diabetes technology can be quite expensive as an upfront cost but it is the recurring costs of insulin that are what make the financials of diabetes difficult to navigate. Insulin is not that expensive to produce, however, the demand for it has gone up. What was once going for $30 per vial has shot up to prices as high as $300. 

Blacksburg, Va., Jan. 24 – The future for diabetics: While the cost of care continues to rise, there are things like this Dexcom G6 pump that are making diabetes care much easier. Photograph: Tyler McAnany

The rise in the cost of diabetes care can be attributed to the rise in type two diabetes, which unlike type one, is developed and in some cases can be reversed. Nevertheless, people affected with any variation are outraged by the cost of care. Even medical professionals have taken notice of the business-first mentality that is the pharmaceutical industry. 

Heather Mulvaney, a registered nurse and certified diabetes educator, sees cruelty and unfairness when it comes to the system of purchasing piled on to the management and upkeep already required. “We’re talking about insulin that is keeping people alive and well, this is not something that anyone wants to be on. To have the costs dictate the care is unacceptable.”

While the costs present a real issue for those diagnosed with diabetes, the technology has significantly evolved to a much more hands-off means of finding vital information regarding the body. 

Pfeiffer recalled the days of when he was required to prick his finger to draw blood up to six times a day and not always knowing if or when he was “low”. “Technology has certainly come a long way. I now have pumps that regularly monitor my blood sugar levels, as frequent as every 5 minutes, and I can avoid the toll those things took on my skin.” 

He even went on to compare the new technology coming out periodically similar to new iPhones. “Always more expensive than the last, but the improved quality and function is undeniable.” 

This is not to mean that big changes to the industry are not needed. Opportunities for equipment consolidation, price changes and increased government regulations have all been discussed. 

Living a life with extra steps already presents its own hardships, but it is too often overlooked that serious financial commitments are required. As Mulvaney alluded to, people cut corners on their care because of strict financials and that alone may make people question what the intentions of the medical industry really are. 

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