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Another Voice: Rising cost of diabetes drugs is creating a crisis

By Mona Chitre

Prescription drugs to manage diabetes are rising in price at rates that are five to seven times faster than the price of food, housing, electricity, medical care and all prescription drugs combined, according to a new report from Univera Healthcare.

Diabetes medications have increased in cost by an average of 42.6 percent from 2012 to 2015. By the end of 2016, they are expected to have increased in price by an additional 18 percent.

These rising costs have a significant impact on health care spending in our region, because 10 percent of upstate New York’s adult population (387,000 adults) is living with diabetes.

Some of the prescription medications used to manage diabetes can cost $300 to $500 per patient, per month. Thank goodness their health insurance covers the bulk of the cost.

Patients who have diabetes also require supplies such as syringes, pen needles and glucometer test strips. Last year in upstate New York alone, $1 billion was spent on diabetes drugs and supplies.

Increasing the use of generics can help bend the cost curve. On average, brand-name drugs cost as much as 33 times the price of generics used to treat diabetes.

Unfortunately, many brand-name diabetes medications do not have a generic version. For example, with no generic competition, the price of insulin continues to skyrocket. And, while generics are typically cheaper, they are not immune to price increases.

The complications associated with uncontrolled diabetes can be profound, and include blindness, kidney disease, lower extremity amputation and cardiovascular disease (heart disease and stroke).

If you have diabetes, or live with or care for someone who has the disease, the following recommendations will help keep it under control:

• Take all medications as directed. Do not miss doses or take smaller doses than prescribed. Use a pill organizer and set reminder alarms on your smartphone to help accurately time each dose.

• Ask your doctor if there’s a generic equivalent or lower-cost alternative for the diabetes drugs you take.

• Because testing supplies are very costly, ask how many times a day you should test your blood sugar. Individuals who do not use insulin do not have to test their blood sugar as frequently as those who use insulin.

• Ask your pharmacist about opportunities that may help improve adherence and lower costs. Inquire about scheduling automatic refills, purchasing 90-day supplies or arranging home delivery of your medications.

Learn more about the rising cost of diabetes drugs from a Univera Healthcare infographic, “The Rising Price of Diabetes Prescriptions” at tinyurl.com/h93o5kd.

Mona Chitre, Pharm.D., is vice president of pharmacy management at Univera Healthcare.

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