The audacity of test-strip pricing
First, let me say that I use lots of test strips. Ten a day on average. On those days when my blood sugar is trending like a rollercoaster (or worse, a ski-lift), I test even more. Without them, I’d be driving on the road of life blindfolded – not knowing where I’m going or which way to turn. If insulin is the carriage, the test strips are the horse – leading the way.
But I digress.
I’ve let myself run down to less than 25 test strips. Because of battles with my insurance company (which I won’t get into here), I’ve put off replenishing my stash. Suddenly, I found myself going store to store trying to score some One Touch Ultra strips at a price that wouldn’t make what’s left of my hair fall out.
Last time I’d needed to buy test strips at retail prices, in 2003, they cost about a dollar a strip. I assumed, perhaps somewhat naïvely, that they hadn’t changed much, and wherever I went, the price would be pretty much the same. Boy was I wrong. But what surprised me most was not how much they cost, but how the cost varies from place to place!
So I began my quest at the local Walmart. They had one box of 50 strips in stock, and wanted about $57 for it. I always buy my strips in 100’s (and mentally price them the same way), and $114 for 100 seemed a bit steep to me. So I moved on.
My work brought me to the Journal Square Transportation Center, a commuter train and bus hub in Jersey City, New Jersey, where the Duane Reade Pharmacy had a plentiful supply of strips in all sizes. And for good reason. The box of 50 cost $84, and the box of 100 cost $167! One Hundred and Sixty Seven freakin’ dollars!! I had to do a double-take, then ask the pharmacist if I was reading that correctly.
Then, on my way home, I stopped at my friendly neighborhood Walgreens, where I fill all of my prescriptions. Walgreens (which, by-the-way, now owns the New York-based Duane Reade chain), put a sticker price of $134 on its box of 100 strips.
Meanwhile, a quick Amazon.com search came back with 100 strips at $65 with free shipping. If only I didn’t need them NOW…
In the end, I bought a box of 100 at an Acme supermarket for $110. (The 50-count box went for $63).
Why the discrepancy?
Test strips cost a lot of money. Too much. But the manufacture of diabetes supplies is a business – and like every other business, people are in it to make money. I accept that. But what I don’t accept is how the prices can fluctuate so much from one place to another. I don’t accept this practice of, what appears to me, to be predatory pricing – where folks restricted to stores served by public transportation pay 50% more.
This isn’t an impulse buy. It’s not like popcorn at the movies, beer at a ballgame, or a soft-drink at a water park.
This is about life. A disposable, yet critical piece of plastic that helps us to keep ourselves alive. There’s nothing sexy or desirable about it, and pricing them as arbitrarily as they do is an exercise in cruelty. It makes me sick.
It’s just not right.
But until someone takes the initiative to ensure consistent pricing from all retailers, like Apple does with their iPods or Entenmann’s does with their doughnuts, that’s what we have to live with.
I’ll get to do it all over again, next week.
As far as insurance coverage goes? Well, that’s a different discussion for a different day.