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Next up for #PriceCheck: How much for diabetes test strips?

Using a test strip and glucose meter.
Using a test strip and glucose meter.

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!