PriceCheck: How much for diabetes test strips?

By Rebecca Plevin

If you have diabetes: How many test strips do you use each day to check your blood sugar? And how much do they cost?

As I’ve waded into the next phase of our #PriceCheck collaboration, I’ve learned these are not simple questions.

The basics

People with diabetes have a problem with insulin - a hormone that regulates the amount of glucose (sugar) in the blood. Either their bodies don't produce it (Type 1 diabetes, which only affects about 5 percent of diabetics), or don't use it properly (Type 2 diabetes, the most common form).

Diabetics must constantly check their blood sugar levels. This involves a glucose meter. You insert a test strip into the meter, then use a special needle to prick a finger and place a drop of blood on the test strip; the meter displays the result.

The number of test strips people use each day "varies depending on the frequency that you need to be testing," explains Manny Hernandez, the president of the Diabetes Hands Foundation, which connects diabetics with information and social networks.

The test strip results need to be accurate because people are relying on this data before injecting themselves with insulin, which is a "very powerful drug," Hernandez says. (He mentions that he's concerned that some cheaper test strips are not as accurate - I'll try to tackle that concern in an upcoming post.)

Struggles with Strips

But for many diabetics, purchasing test strips – whether online or through insurance – can be frustrating.

Prices for the test strips vary widely. A quick search of our #PriceCheck database pulls up two results in Los Angeles: At the same Walgreens on Santa Monica Boulevard, a box of 100 Walgreens-brand test strips is $49.99, while a box of 50 Accu-Check Smartview test strips is $87.99.

But cash prices can mean little to patients with insurance, writes #PriceCheck partner Lisa Aliferis over at KQED’s State of Health blog.

Aliferis explains that the cost of test strips is further obfuscated by insurance transactions:

"… cash prices found online are of little help to the millions of Americans who are insured and are restricted to what their insurer covers, both in brand and in quantity. The quantity is strips-per-some-arbitrary-unit-of-time. Maybe it's strips per day or per month, or 60 days, or 90 days.

It all depends on what contracts the insurance company has made with test strip manufacturers. Remember that those contracts are sealed; you can't compare insurer to insurer.

Share your knowledge

If you have diabetes and use these test strips, we want to hear from you at #PriceCheck: How much does insurance pay for your test strips, and how much do you pay? Feel free to leave a note in the comments section, describing how many test strips you use each day, and whether you’re happy with their quality.

Thanks for helping us decipher this confusing – but important – question!

First let's start with correct stats. The generally accepted proportion of diabetics that are type 1 are 10% . this is wrong. An additional 15% of diabetics are misdiagnosed as type 2 when they are, in fact type 1 LADA. So that adds up to 25%.

My mail order pharmacy benefit provides for sharing a $90 co-pay between strips and insulin. So, I get 1200 (13 per day) Accu-Chek Aviva test strips for $45. My insurance lists the "cost" at $1394 for the strips. If they pay less, they don't share that info with me. I assume they do.

I'm hoping to switch to the Abbott Libre flash glucose system and reduce my finger-stick checks by 90%.

I use 6-8 test strips a day. I am on an MDI regime and inject 4-6 times a day.

As to cost, that is a totally loaded question. Is this my cost as a consumer? Or is it what the insurance company pays on my behalf? Or is it the "street" price? Or is it the actual costs to produce the strips?

I will tell you my situation. I pay $40 for a 90 days order of strips at 4-6 times/day. The Aetna mail order charged $1252 and Aetna paid $953. The mail order charge probably isn't even a "street" price. I don't believe that true pricing and cost information is made available to consumers.

I believe that a huge problem is that most of the costs are being paid for by "payors" on behalf of patients. And these payors make decisions about meters and strips based solely on cost without consideration of performance. I am fortunate to have a choice of covered meter/strips and could investigate my options. My insurance company was absolutely no help in understanding the quality and performance of my options and I don't believe they take meter/strips quality or performance into consideration when selecting covered meters/strips. I know Medicare doesn't, they just select the cheapest option.

I use 7 to 10 strips per day mostly depending on work and sports schedule.

In Germany the insurance company covers auxiliary material to 100%. The report of my insurance company shows that 500 test stripes of Terumo Finetouch cost €250 <=> $317. In Germany all glucose stripes are classified in 4 price classes. You are free to switch brands within one class or to switch to a cheaper class. With the backing of the medical team you can also switch to the higher priced classes due to individual factors causing reliability issues.

For insulin we need a prescription. One vial of NovoLog/NovoRapid costs €13 <=> $16.5. One vial of Levemir costs €14.50 <=> $18.4. Usually these items are bought in 10 vial sets. The copay for 10 vials is €10 <=> $12.6 translating to 1€ <=> $1.26 per vial.