Besides being a life-threatening condition, diabetes is a diabolical pickpocket. You already know this if you’ve priced a continuous glucose monitor lately.
Although we’re grateful for the medical advances that allow people with diabetes to thrive, blessedly undisturbed by complications that were, just a century ago, deadly; it’s a lot more difficult to be appreciative of the costs involved. A recent article by Dr. Elisabeth Rosenthal in The New York Times made it clear just how expensive diabetes can be … not to the country, but to each individual.
The article examines how much treatment for insulin-dependent diabetes costs one American woman, a 36-year-old who was diagnosed with T1 at age 9. The woman, Catherine Hayley, lives in Memphis, Tennessee, which is one of the more inexpensive regions in which to live in the United States, and she appears to have a good health insurance policy.
Still, she will spend more than $4,000 just to manage her diabetes this year – and her insulin pump isn’t even state-of-the-art. It’s a 2007 model. “It’s made of plastic and runs on triple-A batteries, but it’s the most expensive thing I own, aside from my house,” she told The Times. With supplies, the newer model she covets would cost more than $5,000, and that’s after her insurance kicks in.
The article suggests that the high cost of diabetes, in part, due to price-protecting patents, and “a steady stream of new models and updates [that] offer dubious improvements.” With every new model introduced, consumers have to buy gadgets and supplies specific to the brand and made by the same manufacturer, and it doesn’t take long for the pile of receipts to exceed the cost of a nice used car.
Another problem is that products for diabetics vary greatly from country to country, not only in availability but in cost. The Times article cites an egregious example: A vial of insulin that Ms. Hayley buys in America for $200 costs UK pharmacists $30 – and consumers in Great Britain get it for free. It’s difficult to determine the true value of anything when costs vary to such an extreme. Moreover, this complicated marketplace of wildly disparate costs and monopolistic strangleholds makes it difficult for truly innovative and modestly priced products (like ours) to emerge.
Dr. Rosenthal’s article is part of an excellent series looking at the grossly inflated cost of U.S. health care relative to other countries. (More than $8,500 per capita compared to $4,500 in Germany and Canada, for example.) But the implications are universal: Even as we celebrate the advances that enable people with diabetes to live long, active lives, we must, like any other purchase, seek out the best value for our money. Although it shouldn’t cost anyone a lot just to stay healthy.