What’s With the High Cost of Test Strips?

| Mar 1, 2002

Sometimes I sit and dream of the things I could buy and the places I could visit—if only I didn't have all the expenses that go with having diabetes. Topping the list of those expenses are blood-glucose testing strips. In less than one minute after you take one out of the container, you throw about 70 cents—more or less—into the trash.

This expensive, albeit necessary, habit is repeated many times a day. At a minimum of four times a day, 365 days a year, it adds up to more than $1,000 a year. Even if your insurance covers all or most of the cost, it's eating into your lifetime cap on medical expenses.

I recently took a rather unscientific survey of strip costs at my local national-chain pharmacy and came up with prices ranging from 45 cents a strip for the "house" brand to 88 cents a strip for Accu-Chek's new Compact meter. Averaging the prices on the 15 different kinds of strips on the shelf, I came up with just over 73 cents a strip.

If you have insurance, you do not pay the full price of strips out of your pocket. However, many insurance companies are requiring higher co-pays from the people they cover. I pay $20 plus 20 percent of the cost of the strips every time I get an order filled. A friend's insurance company just changed his obligation from $5 per fill to 20 percent of retail cost. If either of us could buy generic strips, our obligation would be less. The cost of strips might be less, too. However, patents on strips prevent generic versions from being sold.

Also, when you buy a package of strips, you're helping to pay a portion—however small—of everything from the salary of the person who thought up how to make the strip to the salary of the person who stocked the shelves in the store where you bought them. Each of those layers has its own costs, and those layers also have their own layers, as the companies involved in manufacturing, transporting and selling the strips also buy goods and services from other companies with those same expenses.

But back to the meter company. There are costs for product conception, research and development, manufacturing, getting clearance from the governmental units involved, attorneys' fees, patent registration, marketing costs to let you know about the fastest, newest, most up-to-date meter on the market (including, in all fairness, the costs of advertising in publications such as Diabetes Health).

"All of our revenues cover a lot of things," says Jeff Christensen, communications manager for LifeScan.

These "things" include around-the-clock customer service, contributions to diabetes organizations, scholarships for diabetes camp, and educational services for consumers and healthcare professionals. In addition, revenues help to support the innovation that took testing out of the lab and brought it into the home, as well as updates that give you readings in less time with less blood and now allow alternate-site testing. You can also throw in computer programs that help you with your diabetes management and educational Web sites.

"There's a lot of value. When you're buying a test strip or a meter, you get all that," Christensen said.

Though I'd still rather spend my money on something else, the question I always ask is, "What's my health worth?" Strips have allowed me to tighten my control and, I hope, to protect myself from future complications. For somebody who doesn't even like getting the sniffles, that's reason enough for continuing to shell out for strips.

What can you do if you can't afford test strips for your blood-glucose meter? Or, at least, can't afford to pay an average of 73 cents or so per strip? There are ways to get some strips for free—or for less than the average cost.

If you really have no money, ask whether there is a program in your county that can help with costs. Or ask your local diabetes education center if it can supply you with some strips.

"I try to help people as much as possible," says Jenna Hasenour, RN, CDE, and program coordinator of the AP&S Endocrinology and Diabetes Center in Terre Haute, Indiana. "I ask the manufacturers' reps for strips when they come in." She gets a few containers of 50 strips, or maybe a few more with 10 strips each, she says, but admits that "the resources out there for strips are not good. People either don't test or don't test as often as they should."

An education center can't give you endless quantities of strips, but it can possibly tide you over in a pinch.

Ask your educator about a testing schedule that will give you the maximum amount of information with a minimum number of tests. Hasenour teaches some of her patients how to stagger tests over several days to determine control.

Finally, consider buying one of the "house" brands of blood-glucose meters. Such a system won't employ the latest technology, nor will it give you the fastest results. However, where I checked, strips for the house brands cost only about half as much as the strips used by other meters.

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Categories: Diabetes, Diabetes, Meters


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