Diabetes on 54 cents a day

A month's supply of some of the latest diabetes medicines can cost more than $100 or even $200 if a patient is forced to pay out of pocket, says diabetes doctor Mark Schutta.

"There's no doubt that some of the new drugs can be a great help to many patients," says Schutta, medical director of the Penn Rodebaugh Diabetes Center. They can offer game-changing benefits like weight loss or a lower risk for hypoglycemia, he says.

If cost is an issue, a typical patient who's newly diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes could conceivably control his blood sugar and help prevent heart attacks and strokes - the other huge goal in diabetes treatment - for about half a dollar a day.

That's because mainstays like the pill metformin and heart-saving statin drugs are now available as generics - often through $4 prescription programs and $10-for-90-days deals at retailers like Walmart, Target and some drugstore and supermarket chains.

Schutta says a budget plan might include the medicines here. (For price comparisons, genericmedlist.com has links to the chain stores' low-cost-drug lists.)

To control blood sugar

Metformin. The American Diabetes Association recommends metformin for all patients newly diagnosed with Type 2, Schutta says. It sells for as little as $10 for a 90-day supply - about 11 cents a day.

Glimepiride. For patients who additionally need to take a sulfonylurea medicine for blood sugar, Schutta says glimepiride is a "very good" generic, acting on the pancreas cells that it targets - and not elsewhere. Also priced 11 cents a day through some $10-for-90-day plans.

To lower blood pressure

A generic ACE inhibitor. This type of blood-pressure drug is another common treatment for diabetics, who are at extra risk for heart attacks and strokes.

Enalapril and lisinopril are two that are widely available through the low-cost plans, again for about 11 cents a day.

To control cholesterol

A generic statin. Statins help control cholesterol for heart health. Simvastatin (Zocor) is the first generic form of the "second-generation" statins, which Schutta says lower bad cholesterol and increase good cholesterol better than the older ones. Although it's not as easy to find at rock-bottom prices as lovastatin and pravastatin (two of the older ones), it can be had for as little as $15 for a 90-day supply-at Kmart, for example. That's about 17 cents a day.

To help guard against plaque

Store-brand low-dose aspirin. A daily 81-mg dose of aspirin can lower heart attack risk. The coated "enteric" versions will help protect your stomach, Schutta says. A bottle of 150 is about $6, or 4 cents a day.