Reduce the steep cost of diabetes

  @Money April 24, 2013: 6:11 AM ET
diabetes high sugar

Diabetes is expensive to monitor and control. Here are some ways you can save money on your medical expenses.

(Money Magazine)

Chances are you or someone you know has diabetes -- or will soon.

Some 26 million Americans suffer from the disease, in which sugar builds up in the blood: 7 million of those are undiagnosed. Another 79 million are prediabetic, or at risk for developing the ailment.

Says Dr. Ron Loeppke, vice chairman of U.S. Preventive Medicine: "It's a national crisis."

And a costly one; diabetes patients can spend as much as several thousand a year out-of-pocket on treatment, says Loeppke.

If you have the disease or are in a high-risk group (have a family history of the illness and/or are overweight), try these strategies to keep the costs in check:

If you don't have diabetes...

Take precautions. Make sure your doctor includes a blood-sugar screening in your physical; insurance will pick up the tab in almost all cases.

Related: Crack open your own genetic code

High-risk patients should get screened at least once a year, says Philadelphia-area primary-care doctor Charles Cutler.

And move more: In people with prediabetes, losing 5% to 7% of body weight and getting 150 minutes of exercise a week decreases the risk of developing diabetes by almost 60%, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

Struggle with your diet? Ask your doctor for a prescription to see a nutritionist -- if you've been diagnosed as prediabetic, your insurer may cover the cost.

If you have diabetes...

Stick to older meds. Drug companies are touting new medications such as Januvia and Onglyza, designed to control blood sugar, but the drugs that have been around for years are just as effective for most people and often have fewer side effects, according to a 2011 report by the federal Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality.

Related: 10 things to know about health insurance

Those who have a large co-pay for name-brand drugs or are on a high-deductible plan might pay a couple hundred dollars a month for the latest meds, while drugs such as metformin and glipizide are sold as generics and usually cost under $20 a prescription.

Save on supplies. Private insurance generally doesn't pay for the home monitor, lancets, and testing strips needed to test blood-sugar levels multiple times a day.

Opt for the monitor that uses the cheapest testing strips, says Cutler, and order supplies in bulk from online wholesale supply firms.

Cooking up a healthy fast-food chain

Pay for supplies with pretax dollars via your work flexible spending account or see if you qualify for a medical tax deduction (you get a break on costs that exceed 7.5% of your adjusted gross income).

Seek support. Studies show that diabetics who join support groups better maintain normal blood-sugar levels.

Almost every large employer offers some sort of chronic-illness management program with access to nurses and support classes, according to the benefits consulting firm Towers Watson. Most major insurers do as well. Call your HR department or insurer and ask. To top of page

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