It’s no secret that the real cost of a glucometer is the test strips. Glucometers are like popular razors in this respect – the device itself is relatively cheap, but the replacement blades quickly surpass the price of the device. Manufacturers know that when you purchase a glucometer, your real value (to them) comes from your continued reliance on the test strips, which can cost anywhere from $0.12 to $2.00 or more per strip.

After talking to many diabetics about their experiences and reading hundreds of comments from users on consumer sites like Amazon, the two most common complaints concerning a glucometer are cost and availability. In this article, we’ll discuss the reasons these two complaints are common and discuss how you might combat these issues.

Complaint One: The Cost

Most glucometers cost around $20, though you can certainly find devices much more expensive with features like Bluetooth to pair the device with a smartphone app. However, the greatest cost to you is the test strips, and for good reason. Blood glucose test strips are technologically impressive for their size. Most test strips feature costly materials like real gold and expensive chemicals designed to convert the glucose in your blood to an electrical current. The glucometer is then able to analyze the conductivity to determine the blood glucose level. Testing your blood is a complex practice in quantum mechanics and electrochemistry. So it makes sense for test strips to cost a pretty penny.

That said, you’ll find a huge disparity when it comes to the cost of test strips from device to device, and brand to brand. As I mentioned in the introduction, you can find test strips that cost $0.12 per strip and you can find test strips that cost more than $2 per test strip.

To put this cost into perspective, imagine testing your blood four times a day on average. Many diabetics test more than this. It’s not uncommon to test six times a day – once before and once after each meal. But some diabetics may only test their blood when they feel hyperglycemic or hypoglycemic. However, for the sake of easy math, we’re going to use the four-times-a-day scenario, which is about 120 strips per month or 1,456 test strips a year.

With a $2 test strip, you’ll pay:

  • $2,912 per year
  • Or about $242.66 per month

With a $0.12 test strip, you’ll pay:

  • $174.72 per year
  • Or about $14.56 per month

While you don’t need a prescription to buy a glucometer or test strips, you’ll likely need a prescription from your physician for your insurance to cover some of the cost. In some cases, however, the insurance will dictate the brand of the glucometer you have to use, which means it also dictates the test strips you have to use.

One of the most common complaints we’ve had while interviewing diabetics and reading user comments from a wide variety of sources is being saddled by one’s insurance with a glucometer that has very expensive test strips. While you may only pay a small copay, the copay is often still higher than the cheaper strips. You should always consult with your insurance concerning costs.

Is there a difference between $2 test strips and $0.12 test strips?
In order for glucometers to be allowed on the consumer market, the FDA requires that they be within 15 percent of an actual blood glucose level at least 95 percent of the time. So if your actual blood glucose level is 100, then the glucometer would have to provide a reading that is within 85 and 115. However, it can fall outside of that range 5 percent of the time. So if you tested the same blood sample 100 times, five of those test readings would be allowed to be lower than 85 or higher than 115.

Whether manufacturers maintain the same level of quality after achieving FDA approval is a significant and on-going debate, as evidenced by this article published by the Journal of Diabetes Science and Technology. As the study argues, after blood glucose meters are approved, there is little or no regulation of their accuracy.

So in essence, both the $2 test strip and the $0.12 should perform within the FDA regulations, but there’s no guarantee that they will. There are many factors that can contribute to an inaccurate reading – humidity, altitude, temperature, dirty hands and other contaminants. The important thing is to find a glucometer that you trust. If you receive a reading that seems too high or too low, then you should consult with your physician. And as always, you should test more than once if you’re unsure about the accuracy. If possible, test with a second glucometer.

Complaint Two: The Availability

Another common complaint about test strips is availability. Some test strips, like Accu-Chek Aviva, are available in almost every online store and brick and mortar pharmacy. But these are also among the most expensive test strips on the market with an average cost of about $1.52 per strip (according to the prices of 12 sources at the time of this article’s publication). However, some test strips are only available online, like strips for FORA brand glucometers, which only cost about $0.33 per strip.

Purchasing test strips online means that you can get some of the cheaper brands that lack the wide-reaching distribution of the big brands. However, some of these sources only provide drop-shipments with no express or overnight options. This means you may have to wait up to 14 days to receive your test strips.

Not everyone plans ahead. That’s okay. It happens. You might be out running errands or on vacation when you feel a need to test your blood, only to find that you’ve run out of test strips. Your only option is to run into a pharmacy and see what is available. You can’t wait for overnight shipping, and you probably can’t run to every pharmacy in your city. This leaves you with one option if the pharmacy doesn’t carry your brand of test strips – buy a new glucometer with a vial of test strips. This is a common narrative.

How to Plan Ahead?
If your brand of test strip isn’t common in pharmacies or you purchase test strips online, we recommend purchasing a second glucometer from a big-brand pharmacy like CVS, Walgreens or Walmart. You don’t have to get the expensive glucometer. In fact, you should buy the cheapest glucometer available with the cheapest test strips. This way, if you ever run out of test strips, you know you can easily run into any of the brick-and-mortar big-brand pharmacies and get the strips you need.

A Backup Plan
Having a second glucometer also serves the purpose of having a second source when you feel like a reading from your primary meter may be inaccurate. As mentioned earlier, glucometers can provide false readings at least 5 percent of the time. If you have a low or high reading but you feel fine, then you should test again with the same glucometer. If the reading is the same, then testing with a second glucometer can either tell you that your readings are accurate or that your primary glucometer may need to be calibrated. And if you choose a brand of glucometers that’s widely available as your backup plan, then you know you can always get test strips when you need them.

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